America has the safest food supply in the world. True or False?
It’s impossible to say. The statistics don’t exist to make such a claim. But that doesn’t stop meatpackers, lobbyists, lawmakers and even government regulators who should know better, from repeating the claim every time there’s a food-borne illness outbreak or major food recall.
So says Philip Brasher, writing today in the Des Moines Register.
Brasher says unfounded claims can undermine the credibility of the government and the industry and he cites barfblog.com and our special safest-food-in-the-world section at http://barfblog.foodsafety.ksu.edu/articles/safest-food-in-the-world/.
Kansas State University Professor Doug Powell wrote on a blog where he tracks food safety news,
"Bland blanket statements serve only to amplify rather than mollify consumers (concerns)."
Brasher goes on to say that the problem with making these claims is that it’s now impossible to compare one country’s statistics to another country’s, experts say. Most foodborne illnesses go unreported, so government agencies must come up with estimates of how many actually occur. How to do that varies.
Paul Frenzen, a demographer with the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research who specializes in food safety, said that even a factor that would seem relatively simple to measure, such as cases of food-related diarrhea, isn’t easy to track because definitions vary, and there are also cultural differences between countries as to when victims of foodborne illness go to the doctor.
Other countries offer universal health insurance, making it more likely that people will get to a doctor when they’re sick.
Brasher concludes that after the nation’s largest meat recall was announced earlier this year, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer didn’t claim that U.S. food is the world’s safest. Instead, he said,
"The United States enjoys one of the safest food supplies in the world."
No one is going to argue with that.