Do US food labeling requirements really educate the consumer?
US consumers have the luxury of not worrying about
food safety or the contents of the food they buy; whether that’s because of a
required label is up for debate.
In an era where we think we need to label U.S. food
with everything you can think of, and, at the same time, on a daily basis, someone
is pointing out what is “wrong” with our food system, let’s pause and think
about what is “right.”
It was a National
Geographic article entitled “Food Fraud: Labels on What We Eat Often
Mislead” that led me down this line
The article covers the European horse meat scandal from
earlier in 2013 in which meat labeled as beef was DNA tested to be as much as
100 percent horse meat. It also goes on to talk about labeling scandals from
around the world, including rat meat and zebra. However, there was one
paragraph that caught my attention and was not emphasized at all in the article.
“Unlike in Europe and some other places, meat fraud
has not been a widespread problem in the United States, thanks largely to tough
regulation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”
The safety of US food
That is the underlying story that never gets enough
attention. U.S. consumers have the luxury of not worrying about food safety or the
contents of the food they are actually buying.
The CDC reports the U.S. has about 48 million cases of
foodborne illness annually. That number was at 72 million per year until the
Food Safety Modernization Act passed. In just one week the number dropped to 48
million, but that political game can be discussed later.
The real story is that a million meals are consumed
every single day in the U.S., and the risk of getting sick from these meals for
any reason — other than a screw up during food preparation — is nearly nonexistent.
is the leading cause of foodborne illness in the U.S. (14 people for every
100,000) but compare that to the EU which has 45.6 of every 100,000. Vibrio
from the consumption of raw oysters is the only other foodborne illness that
has increased since 2006.
The bottom line is, let’s spend a couple of minutes
celebrating the American food system — it’s authenticity, its safety and its
affordability. That will be much more productive than dreaming up some new
labeling requirement that does nothing to educate the consumer.