Is Our Food Safe?
Global food production has rapidly been consolidated in recent decades, with some troubling results. The takeover of the food industry by a few multinational corporations has radically shifted the focus of food production.
Increased competition and the imposition of the corporate structure have together led to a general preference for profitability over quality.
Unfortunately, cutting corners has become common practice across all aspects of food production–from waste management to the quality of animal feed to the technical training that farm and food workers receive. The consequences have largely come at the cost of consumers–and the safety of their food. Here are the 5 top consumer food safety concerns.
The 5 Biggest Food Safety Concerns
1. Foodborne Illness–Foodborne illness is still the most prevalent risk with food. It’s made even more so by high-density, low-sanitation livestock facilities, among other factory farm practices, which spread disease frighteningly rapidly.
76 million Americans suffer from food poisoning each year. More than 300,000 people are hospitalized every year for food related illnesses and more than 5,000 of those people die. Of course, this can be mitigated with better education about food safety and preparation, but it could also be mitigated by better practices on the production, processing, and distribution end.
2. Food Contaminants–While bacterial and viral contamination that cause foodborne illness are most people’s primary food safety concern, there are also a wide variety of other substances that leech into food and can cause health issues. Heavy metals like lead, mercury, and cadmium are occasionally found in food; ingesting heavy metals can lead to serious cases of poisoning, as well as related diseases like Minamata disease from mercury and Itai-Itai disease from cadmium.
3. Pesticide Exposure–Pesticides are a food contaminant that warrant special mention. Pesticides are used in many agricultural operations, from fruit and vegetable production to animal feeding operations.
Exposure to pesticides has been linked to infertility, birth defects, nervous system damage, poisoning, and even cancer. Washing produce is an important way of reducing pesticide exposure, but there are also organic farmers who do not use synthetic pesticides to begin with. This is unfortunately the exception to the rule.
4. Antibiotic Resistance–One of the side affects of treating dairy cows with Monsanto’s recombinant bovine growth hormone (commonly known as rBGH) is also increased risk of udder infection. Rather than simply halting use of the hormone, many American companies began using antibiotics as a preventative measure instead.
Widespread overuse of antibiotics can cause the development of antibiotic resistant diseases and infections. Bacteria can rapidly evolve this trait with prolonged exposure to antibiotics and using antibiotics in a preventative manner rather than therapeutically can lead to diseases and infections that are untreatable.
5. Environmental Effects–Agriculture is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and environmental pollution. Soil degradation, water and air contamination, destruction of ecosystems, and climate change are some of the negative ecological consequences of agricultural operations. While there is increasing awareness of these issues and innovative attempts to address them, the de facto practices of the agriculture industry remain troubling.
[Photocredit: AllianceForNatural Health; KaraWheeler; Drugster]