“Media people love juicy data suggesting an untended-to crisis, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has the perfect juicy data for anyone wanting to write about the supposed crisis in food safety.
The scary data go like this: every year, millions of Americans are victims of food-borne illness–48 million become sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.
The media are attracted to this data like bees to honey. Over just the last few days, two prominent food writers have used it as the basis of articles attacking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for not doing enough to solve our food-safety crisis.
Barry Estabrook, author of the highly acclaimed book Tomatoland, wrote a scathing article on the site ONEARTH, attacking the FDA.
The article, “The FDA Is Out to Lunch”, begins with an example of an elderly man who died a miserable death from eating cantaloupe contaminated with listeria, and then states: “The 2011 listeria outbreak was not an isolated case. The United States is experiencing what amounts to an epidemic of food-borne illnesses. According to the CDC, there are about 48 million cases of food poisoning a year, leading to more than 128,000 hospitalizations and more than 3,000 deaths…the toll from food-borne bacteria is mind-numbing.”
Another prominent food writer, Tom Laskawy, executive director of the Food & Environment Reporting Network, picked up on the Estabrook attack, in an article on Grist, “Food Safety Fail: Why Isn’t the Agency in Charge of Keeping Us Safe Succeeding?”
“As Estabrook reports, we’re in the midst of a food poisoning epidemic. ‘According to the CDC, there are about 48 million cases of food poisoning a year, leading to more than 128,000 hospitalizations and more than 3,000 deaths,’ he writes. To put that last statistic in perspective, it’s the equivalent of a 9/11 tragedy every year. You’d think the government (and the American people) might want to do something to stop it.”
I need to point out at this point that not only are Estabrook and Laskawy highly credible food and agriculture writers, but they aren’t the first to accept the CDC data as fact and use it to argue vehemently we have a food safety crisis. I used the data in my book, The Raw Milk Revolution, to suggest that illnesses associated with raw milk are miniscule by comparison to the overall crisis in food safety suggested by the same CDC data….’
Been a fan of Barry Estabrook’s writing on food and agriculture since Harrowsmith in the late 1970s. Harrowsmith later became “Harrowsmith Country Life” and has since ceased publishing. I was delighted to discover Barry’s “Politics of the Plate” blog a few years ago.