Approximately 76 million Americans--one in four--are sickened by foodborne disease each year. Of these, an estimated 325,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die. Medical costs and lost productivity due to foodborne illnesses are estimated to cost $44 billion annually. Major outbreaks can also contribute to significant economic losses in the agriculture and food retail industries. A 2007 public opinion poll conducted by the Trust for America's Health (TFAH) found that 67 percent of Americans are worried about food safety. In fact, concerns about food safety and food contamination rank higher than Americans' concerns about pandemic flu, biological or chemical terror attack, and natural disasters, like Hurricane Katrina. The recent E. coli contamination of spinach and lettuce, concerns about the safety of farm-raised fish from China, and alarming reports of cattle slaughter practices have heightened anxieties about the vulnerability of the nation's food supply. Studies from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), and the FDA Science Board, which serves as an advisory committee to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have all raised serious concerns about the system that is responsible for keeping the country's food safe. The U.S. food safety system has not been fundamentally modernized since its inception over 100 years ago. Current food safety polices are largely based on early twentieth century laws written to deal with concerns that rarely pose significant threats today because of changes in farming and processing practices and technologies. These outdated concerns receive the bulk of the national resources devoted to food safety, and emerging threats are often only addressed on a piecemeal basis in the aftermath of a crisis. The result is a fractionalized system focusing on antiquated threats, instead of a strategic approach to protecting the nation's food supply through state-of the-art technologies, practices, and policies. Obsolete laws, misallocation of resources, and inconsistencies among major food safety agencies underlie watchdog groups' calls for a "fundamental re-examination of the federal food safety system." In fact, a 2007 GAO report concluded that the federal oversight of food safety is now one of the government's "high risk" programs. This report provides an overview of the current problems in U.S. food safety and recommended solutions. Fixing food safety in the U.S. will require a collaborative effort by food producers, processors, distributors, retailers, and consumers, combined with strong leadership from the federal, state, and local government.
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