Safe Food

Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety

MARION NESTLE
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 2
Pages: 408
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt7zw4z1
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  • Book Info
    Safe Food
    Book Description:

    Food safety is a matter of intense public concern, and for good reason. Millions of annual cases of food "poisonings" raise alarm not only about the food served in restaurants and fast-food outlets but also about foods bought in supermarkets. The introduction of genetically modified foods-immediately dubbed "Frankenfoods"-only adds to the general sense of unease. Finally, the events of September 11, 2001, heightened fears by exposing the vulnerability of food and water supplies to attacks by bioterrorists. How concerned should we be about such problems? Who is responsible for preventing them? Who benefits from ignoring them? Who decides?Marion Nestle, author of the critically acclaimedFood Politics,argues that ensuring safe food involves more than washing hands or cooking food to higher temperatures. It involves politics. When it comes to food safety, billions of dollars are at stake, and industry, government, and consumers collide over issues of values, economics, and political power-and not always in the public interest. Although the debates may appear to be about science, Nestle maintains that they really are about control: Who decides when a food is safe?She demonstrates how powerful food industries oppose safety regulations, deny accountability, and blame consumers when something goes wrong, and how century-old laws for ensuring food safety no longer protect our food supply. Accessible, informed, and even-handed,Safe Foodis for anyone who cares how food is produced and wants to know more about the real issues underlying today's headlines.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94630-9
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE TO THE 2010 EDITION
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xix-xx)
  7. INTRODUCTION: FOOD SAFETY IS POLITICAL
    (pp. 1-26)

    Food safety is a matter of intense public concern, and for good reason. Food “poisonings,” some causing death, raise alarm not only about the food served in restaurants and fast-food outlets but also about the food bought in supermarkets. The introduction in the 1990s of genetically modified foods—immediately dubbed “Frankenfoods”—only added to the general sense of unease. Finally, the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon further heightened such concerns by exposing the vulnerability of food and water supplies to food bioterrorism.

    Discussions of food safety in the media and elsewhere tend to...

  8. PART ONE RESISTING FOOD SAFETY
    • [PART ONE Introduction]
      (pp. 27-32)

      Friends and colleagues, knowing that i was writing about harmful bacteria in food, wondered why anyone would care about things so invisible, tasteless, unpronounceable, and, for the most part, innocuous. Like most people, they view occasional episodes of food “poisoning” as uncomfortable (sometimesveryuncomfortable), but certainly more a matter of random bad luck than of decades of industry and government indifference, dithering, and outright obstructionism. They accept at face value the endlessly intoned mantra of industry and government: the United States has the safest food supply in the world.

      Whether this assertion is true is a matter of some...

    • CHAPTER 1 THE POLITICS OF FOODBORNE ILLNESS: ISSUES AND ORIGINS
      (pp. 33-61)

      In the early 1970s, a time when food safety was becoming a matter of public debate, my young family went to a dinner hosted by a colleague. I don’t remember much about the party, but its aftermath remains vivid. Within hours, all but one of us became violently ill. I will spare the details, as nearly everyone has had a similar experience. A flurry of telephone calls the next day made it clear that we were not the only ones who suffered after that dinner. In retrospect, what seems most remarkable about that event was howordinaryit was. We...

    • CHAPTER 2 RESISTING MEAT AND POULTRY REGULATION, 1974–1994
      (pp. 62-85)

      In chapter 1, we saw how the initial division of food safety oversight between two federal agencies led to a system poorly equipped to deal with food pathogens. In this chapter and the next, we will see how century-old laws affected government responses to incidents caused by newly emergent pathogens, and how food producers used those laws to avoid having to change their practices. Because food animals are the ultimate source of pathogens, these chapters focus on disputes over meat safety, particularly those that involve attempts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to require the meat and poultry industries...

    • CHAPTER 3 ATTEMPTING CONTROL OF FOOD PATHOGENS, 1994–2002
      (pp. 86-112)

      Despite the barriers discussed in chapter 2 and the objections raised by businesses likely to be affected by the new regulations, government agencies were eventually able to institute HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) systems designed to prevent harmful microbes from getting into food. This chapter describes how that happened, mainly with respect to HACCP controls for beef. Beef industry protests were more vehement and often more effective than those of other industries, and interactions of beef trade associations with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and with Congress left more visible traces. Because most outbreaks of microbial illness...

    • CHAPTER 4 ACHIEVING SAFE FOOD: ALTERNATIVES
      (pp. 113-138)

      As citizens, we need to understand that producing safe food is not impossibly difficult. Food scientists proved years ago that HACCP systems prevented foodborne illness in outer space. Those systems should work just as well on earth. Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands have reduced foodborne illnesses by instituting control systems at every stage of production, starting on the farm. They set testing standards to reduce pathogens, limit antibiotics in animal feed, prevent infections in transported animals, test for microbes at slaughterhouses and supermarkets, and provide incentives to the industry to comply with safety rules. Our government could also take such...

  9. PART TWO SAFETY AS A SURROGATE:: THE IRONIC POLITICS OF FOOD BIOTECHNOLOGY
    • [PART TWO Introduction]
      (pp. 139-144)

      Late in the fall of 2001, i attended a tufts university conference on agricultural biotechnology sponsored by corporations such as Aventis (producer of StarLink corn) and Monsanto (producer of genetically modified cow growth hormone, corn, soybeans, and cotton). Speaker after speaker made the same three points: (1) the number of people in the world is increasing rapidly and food production must increase to keep them from starvation; (2) because the land available for growing food is limited, biotechnology—and only biotechnology—can increase food productivity; and (3) the main barrier to producing genetically modified foods is public doubt about their...

    • CHAPTER 5 PEDDLING DREAMS: PROMISES VERSUS REALITY
      (pp. 145-166)

      Biotechnology companies had been working on agricultural projects for 10 years or more when, in 1992, I received a last-minute invitation to talk about the labeling of genetically modified foods at a conference organized by Public Voice, a consumer advocacy group for food and health policy in Washington, DC. As a trained molecular biologist—though a long lapsed one—I was intrigued by the possibilities of the technology. I had not been following the field very closely and was puzzled about why an advocacy group might be concerned about labeling products that were still hypothetical. As it happened, I was...

    • CHAPTER 6 RISKS AND BENEFITS: WHO DECIDES?
      (pp. 167-193)

      In june 2001, the pew charitable trust’s initiative on Food and Biotechnology, a project devoted to establishing an “independent and objective source of credible information on agricultural biotechnology,” conducted a survey of public attitudes toward transgenic foods in the United States. In answer to the question “How concerned are you about the safety of eating genetically modified foods in general?” two-thirds (65%) of respondents expressed some level of concern, and the rest expressed little.¹ These results seemed to indicate a fairly high level of anxiety about genetically modified foods. But do they? The answers to questions about food biotechnology sometimes...

    • CHAPTER 7 THE POLITICS OF GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT
      (pp. 194-219)

      Among the lessons of the starlink corn episode is this: genetically modified ingredients pervade the U.S. food supply, but consumers cannot identify them because the foods are not labeled. This situation was not inevitable. Federal agencies made “science-based” decisions that transgenic foods are equivalent to conventional foods (DNA is DNA no matter where it comes from) and require no special regulatory oversight. In this chapter, we will see how the biotechnology industry lobbied successfully for this approach, using the now familiar mantra: the techniques are inherently safe, the products are no different than those produced through traditional genetics, and labeling...

    • CHAPTER 8 THE POLITICS OF CONSUMER CONCERN: DISTRUST, DREAD, AND OUTRAGE
      (pp. 220-248)

      We have seen how scientists and food biotechnology companies promote transgenic projects by focusing on technical achievements, safety, and visions of improving the world’s food supply, as expressed by the often repeated phrase “biotechnology—and only biotechnology—can help the world produce the food necessary to meet the population needs of the 21st century.” This statement, however, immediately raises credibility issues. Can biotechnology really solve world food problems? What is the industry doing now to address such problems? Are there other methods—perhaps less technical—for solving them?

      Food biotechnology first developed bovine growth hormone,Btcorn, and Roundup Ready...

  10. CONCLUSION: THE FUTURE OF FOOD SAFETY: PUBLIC HEALTH VERSUS BIOTERRORISM
    (pp. 249-276)

    Safe food is one of the great achievements of twentieth-century public health, a result of scientific advances in refrigeration, pasteurization, insecticides, and disease surveillance. This book proposes that food safety also depends on politics. Any doubts about that idea should be thoroughly dispelled by the events of September 2001, when terrorists used airplanes as weapons of destruction and an anonymous correspondent sent letters filled with anthrax spores to civic and media leaders. One consequence of these events was to reveal the vulnerability of food and water supplies to malevolent tampering. Another was to expose the glaring gaps in federal oversight...

  11. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 277-298)

    Since 2003, whenSafe Foodfirst appeared, food safety issues have evolved against a background of ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the rise of China as an economic powerhouse, and deepening international concerns about climate change. Americans experienced revelations of abuses of corporate power, the deflation of the housing bubble, job losses, economic depression, and deep divisions in public opinion about abortion, immigration, and health care. If people now agree about anything, it is that they, as individuals, have little power to affect such events and divisions. In contrast, everyone can do something about food. The food revolution has...

  12. APPENDIX: THE SCIENCE OF PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY
    (pp. 299-304)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 305-354)
  14. LIST OF TABLES
    (pp. 355-356)
  15. LIST OF FIGURES
    (pp. 357-358)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 359-380)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 381-383)