Fast Food Nation author calls for single US food safety body

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Fast food

The US food industry needs to be regulated by a single food-safety
agency with the authority to test widely for dangerous pathogens,
demand recalls and penalize companies that knowingly sell
contaminated food, according to the author of the best-selling
industry-basher Fast Food Nation.

In an op-ed piece published yesterday in the online New York Times​, Eric Schlosser calls for bipartisan support for a food safety bill introduced last year by Senator Richard Durbin and Representative Rosa DeLauro.

The Safe Food Act of 2005, which gained significant support from public health groups, aims to help protect consumers from food-borne illness by consolidating the current fragmented and overlapping food-safety system.

The act would consolidate the activities of various federal agencies - including the US Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine, and the Commerce Department's National Marine Fisheries Service - each responsible for different portions of the nation's food supply.

And according to Schlosser, "the government's food-safety system is underfinanced, poorly organized and more concerned with serving private interests than with protecting public health".

This, he said, is part of the reason why 76 million Americans are sickened, 325,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 die each year because of something they ate.

The Safe Food Act would "eliminate petty bureaucratic rivalries and make a single administrator accountable for the safety of America's food,"​ he added.

"And it would facilitate a swift, effective response not only to the sort of inadvertent outbreaks that have occurred this fall, but also to any deliberate bioterrorism aimed at our food supply."

Schlosser has already gained a reputation for his views on the food industry. His book, Fast Food Nation​, became a best seller and was this year also turned into a movie staring Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette.

It examined the social changes resulting from the rising dominance of the fast food industry, which was accused of using political influence to increase profits at the expense of human health and the social conditions of its workers.

And after witnessing reactions to the 2004 documentary Super Size Me​, which criticized fast food chain McDonald's and which attracted international attention to the damaging health effects of a fast food diet, the food industry was well aware of the handicapping effects of media efforts that put the spotlight on the ethics of food companies.

As a result, it launched a campaign of its own to counter the bad publicity it expected to receive from the movie version of Fast Food Nation​. Eighteen industry organizations in May launched a website, called Best Food Nation​, which claimed to provide fact-based responses to the concerns raised. Members included the Food Products Association and the American Farm Bureau Federation, as well as a number of commodity trade associations.

According to the industry associations, the movie was part of a series of attacks by "critics of our food system"​ who are "promoting their agendas using information that is inaccurate, misleading and incomplete".

However, Schlosser was far from deterred, going on to publish a new book last year entitled Chew On This: Everything You Don't Want To Know About Fast Food.​ He accompanied the launch of the book, which targets children and teenagers, with a string of presentations in middle schools.

Related topics: Food safety

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