Amanda Hitt: Our food system is failing us
Amanda Hitt food integrity campaign director of the Government Accountability Project Posted: Tuesday, June 15, 2010 4:30 am 1 Comment
In May, E. coli-laden romaine lettuce sickened dozens of Americans in five states, and a food-related listeria outbreak has killed at least two Texans. An endless deluge of foodborne illness outbreaks demands re-evaluation of our current food system.
Americans must broaden their evaluation of food safety, however, beyond the finished product, and take the quality of the overall production cycle into account. While outbreaks and hospitalizations grab headlines, there are unseen costs to our production system. We must start putting a premium on food integrity and re-evaluate the entire process -- from soil to plate.
Foodborne illness sickens over 76 million Americans every year, causing 725,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. One recent Georgetown University study showed that the related costs of these illnesses (medical bills, lost wages, decreased productivity) totals over $152 billion a year.
But the true cost of foodborne illness is far greater. The societal and environmental impacts of food production are themselves a type of “foodborne illness” that sickens habitats and communities. These costs must be accounted for. Read More
I find it insulting to everyone who produces food and fiber in this country when people claim that our food system has failed. One of the first numbers they like to bring up is that 76 million cases of food poisoning happens every year. This is certainly a large number and no one in our industry will be happy until it’s zero but let’s put it in perspective. There are about one billion meals consumed every day in this country alone. That means that 99.98% of the meals consumed in this country happen without incident. Is that worthy of being called a failure? Today’s farmers and ranchers are producing more food and fiber with fewer inputs than at any point in the history of the world. Is that a failure? Our livestock are healthier than ever before thus producing a consistent product. Along with that the world has never before seen a safer, more affordable, more abundant food supply. Is that a failure? There is no doubt that we can continue to improve upon our practices but the abundant supplies of food and clothing in this country seems to make it overly easy for our detractors to be critical of our industry.