Your health in the hands of the FDA

Jessica Gauthier – Managing Editor

Most people take food precautions, such as washing their produce or cooking their foods thoroughly. But what happens when that’s not enough?

With the recent outbreaks of E. coli, how can we be sure that our food is safe? While taking precautions might be necessary, there needs to be a conversation about mass-food production. Everything you see in your grocery store is mass-produced—from your processed foods, to your meat, to your produce.

Not only does mass-producing food create social and environmental concerns, but it also creates a health concern.

According to economics journalist Larry Elliott, with the population steadily increasing, food demand is projected to increase up to 50% by 2030. Mass-production is already being pushed to its limits and with no doubt, consumers will be running into more foodborne illnesses. The answers to safer food sourcing is not as much in the hands of the consumers as it is in the hands of both growers and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Currently, the FDA’s regulations don’t require growers to test their water supply past the sprouting stage of their produce. According to the Food Safety Modernization Act’s produce safety standards, “the FDA does not intend to enforce the agricultural water requirements for covered produce other than sprouts,” which can cause a slew of health issues including the spread of viral, bacterial, or parasitic organisms. This poses a problem with growers who mass-produce their crop, which is then shipped to different parts of the country.

While consumers can take precautions to prevent foodborne illness, we should be asking how the FDA can prevent foodborne illness. This would require stricter regulations by the FDA as well as cooperation and compliance from growers.

According to an FDA analysis, however, growers would save $12 million per year without water regulations but would cost consumers $108 million per year in medical expenses. Many growers are averse to strict water regulations, such as water testing, since it would result in more money out of their pockets. The FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, Steven Ostroff, reassured attendees at a meeting in February that they will create, “requirements that are less burdensome while protecting public health,” to benefit both farmers and consumers.

Stricter regulations are not something that can happen overnight, nor does it guarantee to eliminate foodborne illness completely. With a growing population and a higher demand for food, mass-production shows no signs of stopping.

In the meantime, you can support local growers. With faster farm-to-table harvesting, there’s less chance of your food being contaminated and is a great way to support your local economy.