Expand food labeling and testing for transparency in food safety

Surmountable Governance Issues
Jun 17, 2023
6 min read
Food labels and testing are critical components of food safety / iStock

Issue 73 • Week of June 11, 2023 / Updated November 16, 2023

Oscar nominee and Emmy winner Food, Inc. was released in theaters 14 years ago this week and changed the way many Americans thought about what they ate. Increased attention renewed scrutiny on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to escalate inspections from 7,500 to over 10,000 for two years. Subsequent policy updates from 2011-2016 also attempted to reduce the cases of food poisoning that affect 1 in 6 Americans annually.

A sequel is now planned for later this year, which is probably a good indication that not enough has changed for food transparency and safety. In fact, inspections dropped to under 3,000 in 2022 and even more ag-gag laws are silencing whistleblowers across much of the heartland.

A corresponding decline of food recalls started with the pandemic but has remained nearly at half of 2019 totals due to a continued lack of accountability rather than a safer food supply. The recent baby formula shortage was the most evident example to anyone browsing store aisles.

Less well known are recent studies uncovering serious concerns about heavy metals in our food supply that are particularly concerning for babies because of their proven adverse effects on cognitive development. Yet adults suffer too, as these pollutants contribute to 400,000 deaths per year and infiltrate blood donation efforts. Despite warnings from scientists, the FDA never mandated a recall and have punted on new guidelines.

Unfortunately, even eating organic food or adhering to sustainable agriculture will not prevent exposure to arsenic, lead, cadmium, or mercury where they are already present. Water contamination seeps into soil and concentrates in juice or gets absorbed by certain crops such as sweet potatoes, carrots, and rice that are among the most common ingredients for packaged baby food.

All while unhealthy eating remains the leading cause of an early death in America. Better informed consumers could advocate to improve our nutrition and food policy, but they are often kept in the dark.

How can we have a safer, more transparent food supply?

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