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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: December 2015

3 - Regulation of Food Safety

Summary

Introduction

[1] Scope of Food Safety Challenges

The governance of food safety in the United States is complex. Although technology and science have helped provide safer food, safety risks exist at numerous points within the global food system, giving rise to what the FDA's Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) refers to as “foodborne illness” or “foodborne disease.” On the basis of the estimates made by the CDC, each year in the United States, about 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die as a result of foodborne diseases. These diseases range from gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, and sometimes dysentery to more severe symptoms (induced by Salmonella and E. coli bacteria), such as autoimmune thyroid disease, inflammatory bowel disease, neuromuscular disorders, and heart damage. The sources of foodborne risks are numerous, but can be grouped into three broad categories: (1) contaminated, diseased, or otherwise harmful materials that are not detected and removed or remedied; (2) inadequate storage, handling, or processing, which fails to detect and exclude harmful food materials or contaminants of food materials; and (3) purposeful introduction into the food supply of potentially harmful materials (including additives, toxins, chemicals and pesticides, animal drug residues, and packaging materials).

[2] Law and Science: Evolving Response to Safety Risks

The fragmentation of food regulation referred to in Chapter 1 is especially evident in the regulation of food safety risks in the United States: the result is a multilayered, cooperative endeavor that involves many international, federal, state, and local government agencies – all with different levels of responsibilities (which sometimes overlap) and resource allocations (which do not always correspond with the levels of responsibilities). Although this fragmented regulatory regime has adapted to emerging safety risks, the process has proven cumbersome and slow. State regulation, litigation, and new governance tools increasingly fill regulatory gaps created by the fragmentation. The result has been a governance system that is nuanced, complex, and disjointed.

Notwithstanding the fragmentation of the food safety regime, a constant aspiration in the regulation of food safety by government agencies across all levels is management of a food safety system based on science and analysis of risk. For example, the passage of the 1958 Food Additives Amendment was a technology-driven event intended to improve the safety of added and natural substances and reduced the risks associated with the use of food additives.

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