Food safety regulation in the U.S. can draw criticism over issues of cost, bureaucracy, and effectiveness. But what are the alternatives? An interesting article from Sharon LaFaniere in yesterday’s New York Times may have shed some light on that question while taking stock of food safety in China.
a stomach-turning string of food-safety scandals this spring, from recycled buns to contaminated pork, makes it clear that official efforts are falling short. Despite efforts to create a modern food-safety regimen, oversight remains utterly haphazard, in the hands of ill-trained, ill-equipped and outnumbered enforcers whose quick fixes are even more quickly undone.
In recent weeks, China’s news media have reported sales of pork adulterated with the drug clenbuterol, which can cause heart palpitations; pork sold as beef after it was soaked in borax, a detergent additive; rice contaminated with cadmium, a heavy metal discharged by smelters; arsenic-laced soy sauce; popcorn and mushrooms treated with fluorescent bleach; bean sprouts tainted with an animal antibiotic; and wine diluted with sugared water and chemicals.
It was this statement that really jumped out at me though: “Manufacturers calculate correctly that the odds of profiting from unsafe practices far exceed the odds of getting caught, experts say.” It would be unfair to cast that net indiscriminately over food-producers here in the U.S. Still, do we have evidence that the same calculations are not being made here? And don’t we run the same risks if abdicate our responsibility to regulate food production?