Monday, February 14, 2011


My house is loaded with beautiful flowers and Valentine's Day messages, but, the men in my life are far away, and my female friends are occupied with their "significant others" tonight. So here I am sort-of reading and deleting my 600+ unread new mails (I find deleting mail, like cleaning house, very therapeutic).

In the process, I got sidetracked into reading the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Facebook page (talk of unromantic!). I scrolled down, until I found an FDA posting on food safety. Here it is: "The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) gives FDA a mandate to pursue a system that is based on science and addresses hazards from farm to table, putting greater emphasis on preventing food-borne illness."

This is a very general statement and says nothing new or surprising or controversial. The comments were more interesting. Clearly, no one loves the FDA. I did not find a single positive or supportive comment. Poor unappreciated and underfinanced FDA: the only time it's efforts seem to be appreciated is when it regulates pet food.

What I found instead were emotionally violent reactions, basically saying "Stay out of my kitchen." "Raw (including raw dairy) is healthier." "The FDA has no right to tell me what I can or cannot eat." (I am summarizing of course). The poor FDA was accused of being simultaneously - fascist, socialist, a plot by the Democrats, and a front for the corrupt food industry (I was surprised to find it wasn't accused of being linked to Al-Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood!).

Two of the dominant themes: "The government has no right to tell me what to eat" and, "raw is healthier and raw is safe." Neither is true.

What you eat, is ultimately your business. You can eat nothing but alfalfa sprouts or candy, or tuck into your dog's kibble. The government may tell you it's not a good idea, but it can not stop you. In all countries, and more so in developed nations, governments make some effort (not always terribly effective) to protect public health. For one thing, illness costs too much. That includes food borne illness. We simply can't afford to allow totally hazardous food into the food supply. Particularly these days, when one food company or food distributor can be distributing masses of food nationwide and food outbreaks can affect thousands of people.

Yes, the government also tries to keep raw and minimally processed foods as safe as it can, including fresh fruits and vegetables, raw meat and poultry, raw nuts and so on, not just processed foods. And yes, state level regulators have taken a fairly firm stand on raw dairy - which seems to be the main gripe with a couple of the lead commentators. Only about 10 US states allow open direct sale of raw milk and the FDA does advise us not to drink it or to eat cheeses or other dairy foods made of raw milk. The reason is that raw milk is likely to contain bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, Listeria, Campylobacter, and Brucella, which can cause serious illness and even death. Pasteurization kills those bacteria.

But, if you absolutely insist on ignoring the research arguments against this practice, have convinced yourself that pasteurization destroys the nutritional value of milk (which is not true), and want to drink raw milk, go ahead. There are plenty of ways in every US state for getting around regulations limiting sale of raw milk (buying it as pet food, "cow-sharing" and many other ways) and it is doubtful that anyone will put you in jail for it. But when you go to emergency with a bad case of food poisoning, I just hope you have the medical insurance to pay for the care, and I won't have to ultimately foot the bill.

To your good health,



M said...

Woe! I've always felt bad for the FDA, never enough money to do their job properly and a thankless public to back them up. I know I take a few measured risks with my lunch choices, but compared to eating unregulated food with no market preparation... (I also have my own health insurance and won't end up spending other people's money!)

Anonymous said...

I don't like the govt telling me what to do either. But food and drink safety are areas where they can play a useful role, particularly regarding monitoring food suppliers who are only interested in making a quick buck. so more funding for the FDA and the USDA.