This week was one of the rare occasions when I agreed (sort of) with a food safety editorial in the mainstream media. The USA Today piece by (author un-named). (usatoday.com) highlighted the problems when marketing gimmicks (e.g. “pink slime”) and media hype set food safety priorities. I agree some critical and difficult scientific facts and analysis are needed to prioritize and resolve the important food safety issues. Communication fiascos like “pink slime” greatly detract from that effort. A tremendous amount of resources were wasted by those who feed and protect us. I mean, don’t the secretary of Ag and Midwest governors of have better things to do than reassure a public frightened by the media that beef is beef (foxnews.com).
Unfortunately, the science required to address these prioritization questions does not fit into a “sexy slogan” or a sound-bite which must be presented at an 8th grade reading level. The science involves understanding important epidemiological, microbiological and risk assessment concepts such as “attributable risk”, “preventable fraction”, “virulence”, “specificity” and “intervention effectiveness” (to name a few). These are technical concepts that are not easily accepted by the general public or even by many non-quantitative scientists. On the brighter side, I should note that I greatly appreciate the few media personnel and smart congressional staffers that do make the effort to work through the science and understand the issues
Because of the above technical issues, I must say that I disagree with the two alternative, high priority issues, mentioned by the editorialist; antibiotic use and needle injection labeling. Labels have a low “intervention effectiveness. Ask those who have worked for decades to simply get consumers to cook and handle meat properly.
I strongly suggest that we listen to the flock of scientists employed by FSIS, FDA, universities, and the food industry; boring as it may be. We pay them! They have no desire to make anyone sick, nor incite do unnecessary controversy. They don’t get extra funding to scare people. They desire to find answers, fix problems, and make a positive difference.