It’s hard enough to decide what you’ll have to eat for dinner, let alone wonder if the food you’re buying is safe to eat. Recalls, additives and chemicals, and the growing threat of antibiotic resistance all give rise to food safety concerns. Whistleblowers are often the first line of defense when it comes to keeping our food safe and stopping harmful contamination from reaching our dinner plates.
Modern agriculture and advances in transportation have given consumers unprecedented access to a diverse array of foods. Access to safe food is often considered a given. But make no mistake, food safety issues abound. The CDC reports that each year one in six Americans (or 48 million people) get sick and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases. Most of these illnesses are the result of preventable contamination. Now, with the advent of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria and the prevalence of multi-state outbreaks, the importance of frontline truth-telling employees has never been more important to keeping our food supply safe.
It’s commonly accepted that antibiotic use in industrial animal farming is putting consumers at risk. It is estimated that more than one-half of all available antibiotics are used on animals bred for consumption. But the medicated animals in question are not sick or diseased – they are given antibiotics to hasten growth, thus expediting the time it takes to bring them to market. Overuse of antibiotics poses a potential threat to public health as evidenced by frequent illnesses attributed to food outbreaks involving an antibiotic-resistant strain of salmonella.
The inhumane handling of animals is unpalatable in more ways than one. Not only is it cruel, but failure to practice humane handling poses a significant danger to the food supply. “Downer” animals may carry bovine spongiform encephalitis – Mad Cow disease – that can be transmitted to humans through meat and cause devastating and life threatening neurological injuries. But this horrific disease isn’t the sole threat that downer cattle pose. Downers’ time spent in the stockyards results in high continual contact with feces, which in turn contaminates meat during the slaughter process – ultimately ending up on your dinner table.
Processing frequently involves the use of additives. The FDA has approved hundreds of additives for use in food. They are as accepted as vinegar used in pickling, or as controversial as the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) in baby bottles. Additives are commonly used to enhance the shelf life, color and flavor of food, but may be used to enhance vitamin content or nutritional value – such as juices “enriched” with vitamin C. That all seems rather benign, but there may be serious unintended consequences.
The FDA is supposed to extensively study additives before they end up on your dinner table. After all, these are chemicals and, thus, may be harmful. Medical studies suggest links, for example, between certain food additives and childhood neurobehavioral and developmental disorders. Yet, due to industry-friendly regulatory loopholes, consumers don’t always get to know what they’re eating. That’s because the food industry does not list all things “added” to food on the label.
Close and return to the issue page