Had a great opportunity to get on the line with some of my favorite people with one of the very best online sources of everything food. Here is the interview:
From meat and eggs to leafy greens, four experts weigh in on the safety of the U.S. food supply over the past decade and lay out strategies to improve it.
Listeria in smoked salmon, pieces of metal in chicken strips, undeclared allergens in frozen Chinese food and meatballs, E.coli in ground beef, and mold in corn used for animal feed. This is a partial list of the foods recall in the U.S. from just the last few weeks. In our increasingly consolidated, industrialized food system, stories like these have become commonplace. And yet, unless they are associated with documented illnesses or deaths—such as last year’s two outbreaks of E. coli on Romaine lettuce in Yuma, Arizona, which led to hundreds of illnesses and at least five deaths—they rarely make front page news.
The question of just how safe our food is, and what can be done to make it safer, has been occupying scientists, advocates, lawmakers, and public health officials for decades, and the last 10 years have been especially contentious.
In 2011, President Obama signed into law the most significant piece of food-safety legislation since the 1930s. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) came in response to a wave of food-borne illnesses and granted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) broad new powers to inspect and regulate food products and producers.
At the same time, the country’s food safety system remains complicated—the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) remains responsible for inspecting all meat, poultry, and eggs, while the FDA inspects everything else. Under this situation, a frozen pepperoni pizza would undergo three USDA inspections, while a frozen cheese pizza from the same company would receive just one FDA inspection.
While designed and intended to save lives and protect people, food safety regulations can bring financial and operational burdens to farmers and other food producers, especially those with small- and medium-sized operations. And the growing interest in and demand for cottage food laws and “food sovereignty” bills hint at a grass-roots resistance to what some producers might see as overreaching regulations.
To celebrate Civil Eats’ 10th anniversary, we have been conducting a series of roundtable discussions touching on some of the most important topics we have covered since 2009. In the conversation below, we invited four experts to weigh in on the state of food safety. Marion Nestle is an author and the Paulette Goddard Professor, of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, Emerita, at New York University; Bill Marler is the managing partner of Marler Clark, a Seattle, Washington, based law firm that specializes in foodborne illness cases and founder and publisher of Food Safety News; Rebecca Spector is the West Coast director for the advocacy nonprofit Center for Food Safety; and Judith McGeary is an attorney, farmer, advocate, and the executive director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, a Texas-based organization that advocates for policies to support independent family farmers.
Civil Eats’ editor-in-chief, Naomi Starkman, and associate editor Christina Cooke facilitated the wide-ranging discussion. The conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.