Online Extra! 10 reasons to be spooked

An exclusive Online Extra from the September 2007 article, Selling Safety

The 2007 US petfood recall, caused by the deliberate contamination of ingredients (wheat gluten or flour and rice protein) with the compound melamine, has consumers worried about not only the quality and wholesomeness of their pets' food, but also their own. Here are 10 reasons why US consumers are concerned about food safety:

  1. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 76 million Americans get sick from foodborne illnesses each year, 325,000 require hospitalization and 5,000 die.
  2. A CDC report published in April 2007 shows a 50% increase in E. coli infections since 2004 and a 78% increase in Vibrio infections (caused by eating raw shellfish) during the past decade.
  3. During the past year, bagged spinach infected with E. coli infected more than 170 people across 25 states, and peanut butter infected with Salmonella infected more than 400 people in 44 states.
  4. During 2005 and 2006, recalled food recovery rates were 28% and 34% respectively, according to the US Department of Agriculture. (The Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, does not track this.)
  5. During the past five years US food makers looking to cut costs have more than doubled their business with low-cost countries such as Mexico, China and India-"nations that have the most shipments fail the limited number of checks the FDA makes," according to an April 23, 2007, release from the Associated Press (AP).
  6. The number of FDA food safety inspections dropped 47% between 2003 and 2006, with 12% fewer FDA employees in field offices concentrating on food issues, according to an AP analysis.
  7. During 2006, less than 1% of the 8.9 million imported food shipments-representing $1.9 trillion in foreign goods-were inspected by the FDA. In San Francisco, each "inspection" consists of a 30-second review via computer screen.
  8. The FDA's comprehensive Import Strategic Plan, which was created after 9/11 to guard the nation's food supply against tainted imports, was completed in 2003 but never implemented "due to budget constraints, competing priorities and government inertia." (So says an April 27, 2007, article in the Los Angeles Times .)
  9. Half of the country's import inspection laboratories are facing closure in a move to "modernize the FDA's food safety efforts," says the Wall Street Journal (July 17, 2007).
  10. In mid-2007, the US Government Accountability Office, which for several years has been highly critical of the nation's "fragmented" food safety structure, placed food safety enforcement on its list of "high risk" items, according to a July 16, 2007, article in the Chicago Tribune .
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