Friday, October 22, 2010

The Dangerous, Voluntary Nature of Food Safety

As was reaffirmed recently by the recall of 500 million eggs, the risk for food-borne illness in this country is high. The oversight of food production and packaging is fraught with concerns.

According to the lead story in today’s Washington Post, the root of the problem stems from who controls oversight.

"The voluntary quality control system widely used in the nation's $1 trillion domestic food industry is rife with conflicts of interest, inexperienced auditors and cursory inspections that produce inflated ratings, according to food retail executives and other industry experts."
Yes, you read correctly. The system is v-o-l-u-n-t-a-r-y. I’m confident that those calling for the blanket shrinking of government would change their tune if a family member became violently ill because a food company was cutting corners (to make an extra penny per strawberry) in its self-policing regimen.

There is a conflict of interest inherent in the auditing process, according to The Post, and we are the victims:

"Industry experts say that under the best circumstances the audits can be useful. But a key failure is that auditors are typically paid by the companies they are inspecting, creating a conflict of interest for inspectors who might fear they will lose business if they don't give high ratings."
And, The Post writes, the mindset is self-perpetuating:
"Industry experts say the flaws in the current system will be difficult to fix as long as companies see food safety as an expense that cuts into profits.

"Suppliers 'will hunt down the fastest, cheapest, easiest and least-intrusive third-party auditor that will provide the certificate' that will allow them to sell their product, [David] Acheson, [former assistant commissioner for food protection at the Food and Drug Administration under President George W. Bush] said. 'Until that model flips, there will continue to be a false sense of security in terms of what these systems offer.'"
What catastrophe is needed for us to realize that a $1 dozen of eggs is so much more expensive than $1?

Click here to read the article.

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