Should We Fear Our Food?
The good news is that even as our fears are spiraling upward, our food is
safer than ever, with E. coli infections — one of the most common
food-borne diseases in the United States — down by 29 percent in the past
decade, according to 2005 data from the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. Government and industry are working to make food production cleaner
and to identify disease outbreaks faster.
Still, it's tough to trust that food safety is increasing when the bad news
keeps breaking: Recent recalls of contaminated peanut butter (salmonella) and
mushrooms ( E. coli ) continue to fuel our anxiety that we're buying
tainted food that could make us sick. Even technologies that have no history of
causing illness can make us nervous simply because they seem unnatural.
"Food raises emotional issues that are important to us but sometimes have
nothing to do with actual safety," says Carol Tucker Foreman, of the Food
Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America. "That's why we have
a right to get enough information to decide for ourselves whether we want to
eat something — even if it's safe."
To help you draw the line between panic and prudence, REDBOOK investigated
six food technologies that have recently made headlines or raised consumer
anxiety over the years. Here, what you need to know.
Antibiotics in Meat
You may take antibiotics only when you're sick, but poultry, cattle, and
swine get low doses even when they're well to fend off infections common in
factory farms and to promote growth. By some estimates, 70 percent of
antibiotics produced in the United States are used for nontherapeutic purposes
on largescale confinement farms.
The Potential Danger
"The drugs used on animals are the same ones we rely on at the doctor's
office — penicillin, tetracycline," says Margaret Mellon, Ph.D., of the
Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental group in Washington, D.C. But
those drugs are becoming less effective as bacteria develop resistance to them
— and widespread use of antibiotics in animals may be making the problem worse.
If resistant versions of deadly bacteria survive on animals and make it onto
your plate, any infection you get could be harder to treat because antibiotics
won't kill the germs.