Paying More to Know the Food is Safe to Eat
Three Friends (photo by Marcos Casiano, courtesy of morgueFile.com)
Just a few months ago a national survey found safety to be the number one concern of affluent consumers when purchasing food. Not surprising, considering the frightening stories that keep making their way into the news time and again. “Every year, millions of people in the United States suffer from foodborne illness, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized, and thousands die,” according to testimony given by Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Some cases are absolutely nightmarish. In 2009, New York Times reporter Michael Moss introduced readers to Stephanie Smith, a children’s dance instructor from Minnesota who is partially paralyzed from E. coli. It was this paragraph in particular that made readers burn:
The frozen hamburgers that the Smiths ate,which were made by the food giant Cargill, were labeled “American Chef’s Selection Angus Beef Patties.” Yet confidential grinding logs and other Cargill records show that the hamburgers were made from a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin. The ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria.
American families are now so concerned about the safety of their food that consumers strongly prefer to see products labeled as safety certified by a third party, according to a study being conducted by Michigan State University on behalf of DNV, a global provider of services for managing risk. “Consumers are not only aware of food safety issues they are actually changing their shopping habits due to food safety concerns,” says Dr. Chris Peterson, director of the Product Center at MSU. “Nearly half of the consumers we surveyed indicated a change in shopping patterns.”
Why Should We Pay More?
MSU found slightly more than one-third of consumers indicate a willingness to pay a premium, upwards of 30% more, to see evidence on product labels that the food they are buying has passed some kind of independent safety certification process. But what of the millions of tax dollars already being spent for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ensure the safety of the nation’s food supply? It is understandable that parents are willing to pay more to protect the health of their children, but it is time to get the agencies established to protect people doing a credible job of it.
Food, Inc. on DVD
Not convinced that the U.S. is in need of a healthier and more sustainable food system? Then have a look at a DVD of the Academy Award-nominated documentary, Food, Inc. The film illustrates how our nation’s food supply is controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers, and our environment.
To learn more about this landmark documentary film, go to: Food, Inc.
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