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RSS By: Steve Cornett, Beef Today

Read the latest blog from Steve Cornett.

A scary story here. Very scary story here!

May 12, 2009

By Steve Cornett

The New York Times yesterday had a pretty darn balanced and well-contexted look at the state of food safety in the U.S.

You can see it at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/11/health/11food.html?ref=health.

Surprisingly for the Times, the story is not all about how bad food and agriculture is. In fact, it concedes—and I use the verb only because it’s the New York Times so I suppose they have to “concede” it—most public health experts “believe the nation’s food supply is markedly safer now than it was 100 years ago, and probably safer than a decade ago.”

I can’t imagine which “expert” worth the “pert” part wouldn’t believe the food supply was safer than it was 100 years ago. But I’m glad to see the Times admitting the experts think it’s safer than 10 years ago. Geez. The system is doing something right?

And then later, get this: 

“Since the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) began its improved tracking in 1996, cases tied to some major germs have decreased significantly. Authorities cite better oversight of the meat and poultry industry. (Emphasis added).

“Ailments caused by the toxic strain of Escherichia coli have dropped 25%. Campylobacter cases are down 32% and listeria cases, down 36%. A few relatively rare diseases have increased, and rates of salmonella, a common food-borne illness, are largely unchanged. (Most salmonella cases are mild.)” 

Now, to be frank, I might have chosen different words. I think HACCP, the industry’s overtime efforts and technological improvement have had more impact than government oversight. But let’s not quibble.

The authors of this article even managed to find somebody who got sick drinking raw milk despite the fact that it was organic raw milk produced, I presume, by a “family dairy farmer.” That’s just so un-PC to blame some family farmer for a problem, even though there’s not enough cash in most family farms to attract the attention of the trial lawyers and their publicity machines.

The writers go so far in this piece as to suggest that all the headlines about food safety might be the result not of less safe food but of better reporting.

Anytime I get into this subject of food safety, my brain caveats the whole thing by wondering if we are really making ourselves safer by protecting ourselves from every possible germ, knowing that we are fostering sissy-sissy-kissy-missy immune systems.

At any rate, in defense of the NYT, whose reporting I admire greatly and trust greatly on issues I don’t know anything about, I will note that this nuanced article is not on the Web site's list of most popular stories. It isn’t scary enough for folks to email around to each other, proving how interested they are.

On the other hand, Jane Brody’s very scary story on the "very not-scary-to-me-anyhow" National Cancer Institute report on red meat’s relationship to longevity among AARP oldsters was on the “most popular” list from April 27 until this morning.

Now, if you were a reporter whose job was to generate readership, would you rather write something scary that people email around or something more nuanced that people ignore?

Yes. Well, me too. But I didn’t have one this morning, so I just wrote a scary headline.

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COMMENTS (3 Comments)

K G Kimball
--often we have "educated" people ask about a side of pork and if its ever had a shot,medication,ect...my answer now is we have safe, healthy animals kept in environmentally controlled barns but if you think its better to get one from an "old style macdonalds farm that has never been wormed,lives in the mud and has a host of parasites that is your choice",....we sell some private , but 99.9 % go to packers who are so much more particular about food safety,health,cleanliness,ect,,,I I know that meat from these processors are the safest possible..........on farm little shops sound nice and make you feel good and lots are excellent but they just are not BETTER than what is in grocery store.....everyone complains with a full stomach,,,well that is my rant!!!!!!!---how many kids to-day have never even played in real dirt!
8:36 AM May 16th
Yeah, there's no doubt that our food supply is a lot safer because Teddy Roosevelt got involved and helped to pass food safety laws in the early 1900's. One would also think that the increased knowledge of general cleanliness would have increased greatly during the last 100 years.
8:59 PM May 14th

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