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Food Safety: A Global Issue, Research Paper Example

Pages: 13

Words: 3541

Research Paper

Globalization has forever changed the nature and mode of commerce for all commercial enterprises, including the food industry and many products are manufactured and sourced through the global supply chains of international trade.  In the U.S., anywhere from 10 to 15 percent of the national food supply is imported, including nearly 50 percent of fresh fruits, 20 percent of vegetables, and 80 percent of seafood, totaling around $81.9 billion annually (U. S. Department of Health & Human Services (USDHHS), 2012). It is estimated that approximately $7.2 billion of this total was spent of foods originating in East Asia, which brings the food safety concerns of this nation to American soil and demonstrates the universal implications of the importance of food safety (USDHHS, 2012).  Internationalization has fundamentally altered the landscape for food supply chains for the United States, and for the world, due to the magnitude of imports, the diversity and complexity of products, the intricacy, length, and density of supply chains, and the growing impact of climatic complications on supply chains as well as food contamination and foodborne diseases all create challenges to ensure that food products are safe and of high quality. Although there are a multitude of foreign and domestic regulatory agencies, like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Hazard Analysis by Critical Control Point (HACCP), and the Food Safety Commission of China’s State Council are designed to monitor the preparation, packaging, transportation, and handling of the foods we eat and hazardous materials, consistent controversies with worldwide fallout continually arise and threaten the safety and well-being of massive populations (Ropkins & Beck, 2000).

Unfortunately, the FDA does not have the resources to adequately keep pace with the pressures of globalization and, in an attempt to counteract this, in 2008 the Government Accountability Office recommended that FDA increase inspections of foreign drug establishments and improve information it receives to manage overseas inspections (USDHHS, 2012).  However, with the current organizational environment, it would take about nine years for the FDA to inspect the most prominent pharmaceutical facility just once and this is also true for food manufacturing agencies (USDHHS, 2012).  In addition, food scares have diminished the public’s trust in the government’s ability to guarantee food safety and institutional independence and transparency after each food scare incident is a hybrid of public and private sector management with no real permanent mechanisms for consumer involvement or proper food governance to ensure prevention of future incidences (Henderson, Coveney, & Ross, 2010).  Conversely, despite fewer mechanisms for consumer involvement and transparency in the Australian food governance system, consumers still display considerable trust in the government’s ability to protect food safety (Henderson, Coveney, & Ross, 2010). The 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act aims for the organization to examine at least 600 food import facilities within the next year and double this number every year for the next five years (USDHHS, 2012).

There is little evidence of the politicization of food, reflecting a level of trust in the Australian food governance system that may arise from a lack of exposure to major food scares (Henderson, Coveney, & Ross, 2010).  Although such a lofty goal may be achievable in the first year, it would not be possible for the FDA to perform 19,200 inspections of foreign food importers in year six without significant growth in resources and operational restructuring for more efficiency, as is the case in many foreign monitoring agencies (USDHHS, 2012).  Imported food makes up a substantial and growing portion of the U.S. food supply and agencies need to address gaps in enforcement and collaboration to enhance safety of imported food.  To ensure imported food safety, federal agencies must focus their resources on high risk foods and coordinate efforts to perform the following actions: (1) assess how Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the FDA, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) are addressing challenges in overseeing the safety of imported food; (2) assess how FDA leverages resources by working with other entities, such as state and foreign governments; and (3) determine how FDA is using its Predictive Risk-Based Evaluation for Dynamic Import Compliance Targeting (PREDICT) system to oversee imported food safety. GAO analyzed CBP, FDA, and FSIS procedures, reports, and regulations and interviewed agency officials and key stakeholders.

The HACCP also represents a logical step forward in food safety management in that this organization looks at food preparation step by step to identify the root causes of potential problems and to establish corrective or control measures (Loken, 1995).  The complexity of modern food safety issues necessitates attention to matters other than the traditional attention to cleanliness and maintenance and this food safety approach is being adopted by the USDA, FDA, and numerous state and local health departments (Loken, 1995).  Food safety is a matter of intense public concern for good reason, considering the millions of annual cases of food “poisonings” from the food served in restaurants and fast-food outlets but also about foods bought in supermarkets and the introduction of genetically modified foods, or “Frankenfoods” (Nestle, 2010).  According to FoodSafety.gov (2012), one in six Americans will get sick from food poisoning each year, which is about 48 million people, and most of them will recover without any lasting effects from their illness, but some will suffer from the long-term effects of food poisoning and this can be devastating and even deadly.  One serious illness associated with several common types of food poisoning includes kidney failure associated with hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), which is a serious illness that usually occurs when an infection in the digestive system produces toxic substances that destroy red blood cells, causing kidney injury, is the most common cause of acute kidney failure in children, and usually occurs after infection with some kinds of E. coli bacteria (FoodSafety.gov, 2012).

The HACCP Food Safety Manual is the first easy-to-understand, comprehensive HACCP manual guide to all HACCP techniques, processes, and procedures (Loken, 1995).  The events of September 11, 2001 heightened fears by exposing the vulnerability of food and water supplies to attacks by bioterrorists (Nestle, 2010).  When six children died and 300,000 were sickened by melamine-tainted baby formula in 2008, the Chinese government enacted more strict policies to ensure food safety, including a decree from the Supreme Court calling for the death penalty in cases where people die as a result of tainted foods (Demick, 2011).  In the United States, about 3,000 people die each year of illnesses resulting from food poisoning (FoodSafety.gov, 2012).  There are five main types of organisms that are responsible for 88 percent of the deaths that are the known result of food-borne pathogens, which are Salmonella, Toxoplasma, Listeria, norovirus, and Campylobacter, but other types of food-borne sickness may also cause death, likeVibrio infections typically associated with eating raw shellfish (FoodSafety.gov, 2012).

In another incident of tainted food at a wedding, 286 people went to the hospital and doctors at the No. 3 Xiangya Hospital in Changsha blamed pork contaminated with clenbuterol, which is a steroid that makes pigs grow faster and leaner (Demick, 2011).  Listeria is another germ that can grow on pork and other meats, even in the cold temperature of the refrigerator with an incubation period of 3-70 days and is only killed by cooking and pasteurization (FoodSafety.gov, 2012).   According to Nestle (2010), ensuring safe food involves more than washing hands or cooking food to higher temperatures and necessitates political movements designed to ensure that legislations to promote food safety are stringently followed and enforced.  Consumed by humans in excess quantity, chemicals like clenbuterolt can cause heart palpitations, nausea, convulsions, dizziness and vomiting (Demick, 2011).  A Listeria infection can lead to meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and, if a newborn infant is infected with Listeria, long-term consequences may include mental retardation, seizures, paralysis, blindness, or deafness and the symptoms include fever, stiff neck, confusion, weakness, vomiting, sometimes proceeded by diarrhea (FoodSafety.gov, 2012).

This bacterium is also found in ready-to-eat deli meats and hot dogs, refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads, unpasteurized or raw milk and dairy products like soft cheese made with unpasteurized milk, including queso fresco, Feta, Brie, and Camembert, refrigerated smoked seafood, and raw sprouts (FoodSafety.gov, 2012).  In another case of tainted pork, a woman left uncooked pork on her kitchen table, woke up in the middle of the night, and noticed that the meat was emitting a blue light and experts pointed to phosphorescent bacteria, blamed for another case of glow-in-the-dark pork the previous year (Demick, 2011).  Guillain-Barré syndrome is a disorder that can occur as a side effect ofg food poisoning from tainted foods and affects the nerves of the body to the extent that the person’s immune system attacks the body’s own nerves (FoodSafety.gov, 2012).  It can result in paralysis that lasts several weeks and usually requires intensive care and a many as 40 percent of Guillain-Barré syndrome cases in this country may be triggered by an infection with Campylobacter, which is one of the most common causes of food poisoning in the United States (FoodSafety.gov, 2012).  The vast majority of cases occur as isolated events, not as part of recognized outbreaks from raw and undercooked poultry, unpasteurized milk, or contaminated water, and the illness has an incubation period of two-five days and symptoms that include diarrhea that may be bloody, cramps, fever, and vomiting diarrhea for a duration of 2-10 days (FoodSafety.gov, 2012).

When it comes to food safety, billions of dollars are at stake, and industry, government, and consumers collide over issues of values, economics, and political power–and not always in the public interest.  Although the debates may appear to be about science, Nestle (2010) maintains that they really are about control and who decides when a food is safe.  Chinese farmers in eastern Jiangsu province were shocked when their watermelons exploded “like landmines” after they mistakenly applied too much growth hormone in hopes of increasing their size (Demick, 2011).  Cases of steroid-spiked pork, glow-in-the-dark meat, and recycled cooking oil collected from sewers has contributed to a series of illnesses and scandals linked to tainted food that has put officials on guard, but tougher measures have had little effect amid an official culture of secrecy (Demick, 2011).  However, powerful food industries oppose safety regulations, deny accountability, and blame consumers when something goes wrong, and century-old laws for ensuring food safety causes consumers to worry that the government can no longer protect our food supply (Nestle, 2010).

Although agricultural-biotechnology has remained deeply controversial in Europe, transgenic plants expressing insecticidal proteins from the bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), are revolutionizing agriculture (Levidow, Carr, & Wield, 2005; Shelton, Zhao, & Roush, 2002).  Despite the limited uses for Bt as a foliar insecticide, it has become a major insecticide because genes that produce Bt toxins have been engineered into major crops grown on 11.4 million hectares worldwide in 2000 (Shelton, Zhao, & Roush, 2002).  According to current figures, these crops have shown overall positive economic benefits to growers and reduced the use of other insecticides (Shelton, Zhao, & Roush, 2002).  For advocates, genetically modified (GM) crops provide hope for a more environmentally benign, sustainable and economically competitive agricultural environment and the potential ecological and human health consequences of Bt plants, including their effects on non-target organisms, food safety, and the development of resistant insect populations, are being investigated (Levidow, Carr, & Wield, 2005; Shelton, Zhao, & Roush, 2002).  Bt plants and alternative insect management strategies are being weighed and compared to determine the long-term viability of this solution since scientists do not know the complete risks and benefits of any insect management strategies that sanction the unfettered use of Bt plants with the expectation that the risks would be lower than current or alternative technologies and that the benefits would be greater, although the data to date indicates these expectations seem valid (Shelton, Zhao, & Roush, 2002).

The potential for crops like Bt to promote food sovereignty are staggering, with food sovereignty being defined as the right and freedom for farmers to grow diverse and nutritious food and the right to have access to save healthy, adequate, and affordable food within a household, community, region, or nation (Cochrane, 2011).  The World Health Organization (WHO) (2012) defines food security as a condition that exists “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”.  Within both these definitions, physical access to food that meets the dietary needs and preferences while helping to prevent malnutrition and health issues related to consumption of inadequate, rotten, food, are tantamount attributes (WHO, 2012).  For countries with staggering population growth, like China, achieving food sovereignty and food security can be difficult achievements to maintain.  This paper will focus on the concepts of food security and food sovereignty in China with regard to what kinds of food are most preferred and who gets to eat them, how food habits differ between rich and poor and whether health differences are related to this, and what kinds of crops farmers grow, why they grow these particular corps, and how has this changed in the last twenty or thirty years.

The essential concept of food security is based on three main principles, which are: the availability of food in sufficient quantities on a consistent basis, having adequate access to food sources appropriate amounts to maintain dietary needs, and adequate water and sanitation as well as appropriate knowledge regarding use based on basic nutritional needs (WHO, 2012).  Food sovereignty differs in that it is directed towards the ensuring the rights of farmers to own their land and control what they grow as well as how much they charge for their product (Cochrane, 2011).  China faces two primary hurdles to ensuring that they are able to eradicate “hunger and meet the dietary aspirations of an increasingly affluent population” (Ash, 2011). Three decades of economic reforms have helped hundreds of millions of people establish wealth and this has caused changes in agricultural demands (Ash, 2011). For example, during this timeframe, wheat cultivation changed from 10,000 different varieties being cultivated to only 1,000 varieties and such changes in consumption dynamics have also impacted health trends (Schanbacher, 2010).

The higher demand of the newly wealthy populace for fine foods has changed the dynamics of the agricultural market as consumption of non-staple foods, including meat, fish, fruits, eggs and dairy products increases, although this change is not confined to the wealthy and is also noticeable in rural areas (Ash, 2011).  However, Ash (2011) also indicates that

“…population pressure, urbanization and rising prosperity have resulted in the loss of some of China’s best farmland. … China has suffered a loss of about 8.3 million hectares of arable land, or about 6.5 percent of the country’s total arable area…”

Such loss realistically translates into a loss of agricultural output.  While rice has traditionally been the staple crop in China, soybeans, maize, and cotton are also grown (Country Profile: China, 2002).  Although the soil is predominantly acidic red clay dirt, intense irrigation and fertilization and meticulous care, in conjunction with tropical climates and a long growing season keeps Chinese farmers among the most productive in the world (Country Profile: China, 2002).  However, recent issues of desertification and water shortages due to the intensive demands of farming have also presented challenges to China achieving food sovereignty and food security, especially in the face of the consistently growing populace (Ash, 2011).  Despite such troubles, China has made progressive strides and is currently on target towards achieving their Millennium Development Goal of ending hunger and food related health issues (Ash, 2011).

Agriculture is going through another revolution, but this time it is part of the larger revolution in genetics, which has been proclaimed as the third technological revolution following the industrial and computer revolutions, and technical aspects of agricultural biotechnology have been rapid, but their deployment and impact have been controversial (Shelton, Zhao, & Roush, 2002).  Since very little is known about the potential long-term effects of any foods consumed using the various bioengineering methods, identification of such effects may be very difficult, if not impossible, due to the many confounding factors and the great genetic variability in food-related effects among the population Kuiper, Kleter, Noteborn, & Kok, 2001).  Daily news events on the scientific and social implications of agricultural biotechnology describe an evolving story and some of the most important issues surrounding agricultural biotechnology are related to the growth and consumption of the Bt plant, but the identification of long-term effects specifically attributable to genetically modified foods is highly unlikely, even though epidemiological studies given the high background of undesirable effects of conventional foods (Kuiper, Kleter, Noteborn, & Kok, 2001; Shelton, Zhao, & Roush, 2002).  The revolution in agriculture has two parts: genomics, which seeks to understand and modify the organization of traits within the chromosomes of a species, and transgenics, in which the traits of an organism are changed by transferring individual genes from one species to another (Shelton, Zhao, & Roush, 2002).  Transgenics is the segment that has attracted most of the public controversy from the use of plants that have been genetically modified (GM) even though this has consistently happened throughout the history of agriculture, but the present technology of moving individual genes through biotechnology is more appropriately called genetic engineering and plants are being engineered for such novel uses as remediation of metal-contaminated soils, vaccine production, and nutritional supplements (Shelton, Zhao, & Roush, 2002).  The continual food contamination episodes do not foster confidence that the possible negative side effects of this new technology can safely be mastered given the propensity for damage to millions through the use of conventional farming methods.

Another example of such an episode is the recent incident on December 30, 2011 in which food safety inspectors in the southern city of Shenzhen in China discovered carcinogenic mildew in peanuts and cooking oil at some markets and restaurants (Bohon, 2012).  High levels of aflatoxin, which is produced by a fungus that commonly grows on crops such as grains and peanuts , was found in peanuts in three markets, and in cooking oil in four restaurants (Bohon, 2012).  While the toxin is found in inconsequential levels in most peanut crops, including those grown in the United States, high levels of aflatoxin have been linked to liver damage and cancer and an earlier report from the government news site said that high levels of the same toxic substance had been found recently in milk and other products from the Mengniu Dairy Company, a popular dairy farm in the region (Bohon, 2012).  A preliminary examination revealed that the contamination was caused by mildewed feed given to cows in the dairy’s plant in southwest Sichuan province and the news agency insisted that the problem was discovered before the tainted milk could enter the market (Bohon, 2012).  China and many other countries worldwide have been dealing with incidences such as this one and the others detailed in this paper and it is necessary that measures be taken to make sure such occurrences do not continue to threaten the health and safety of the public

References

Ash, R.F. (2011, March 29). Feeding billions: Food security in China. ISN Insights. Retrieved from http://www.isn.ethz.ch/isn/Current-Affairs/ISN-Insights/Detail?lng=en&id=128073&contextid734=128073&contextid735=127105&tabid=127105

Bohon, D. (2012, January 04). U.S. impacted by China food safety concerns. The New American. Retrieved from http://thenewamerican.com/world-mainmenu-26/asia-mainmenu-33/10427-us-impacted-by-china-food-safety-concerns

Cochrane, L. (2011, July 5). Food security or food sovereignty: The case of land grabs. Journal of Humanitarian Assistance. Retrieved from http://sites.tufts.edu/jha/archives/1241

Country Profile: China (2002, January). New Agriculturist. Retrieved from http://www.new-ag.info/en/country/profile.php?a=868

Demick, B. (2011, June 26). China wrestles with food safety problems. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jun/26/world/la-fg-china-food-20110627

FoodSafety.gov. (2012). Food poisoning: Long-term effects. Retrieved from http://www.foodsafety.gov/poisoning/effects/index.html

Henderson, J., Coveney, J., & Ward, P. (2010). Who regulates food? Australians’ perceptions of responsibility for food safety. Australian Journal of Primary Health, 16 4, pp.344-p351.

Kuiper, H.A., Kleter, G.A., Noteborn, H. P. J. M., & Kok, E.J. (2001, June 25 ). Assessment of the food safety issues related to genetically modified foods. National Institute for Quality Control of Agricultural Products (RIKILT), Wageningen University and Research Centre, PO Box 230, NL 6700 AE Wageningen, the Netherlands The Plant Journal , 27(6), pp.503-528. Retrieved from http://www.ask-force.org/web/Food/Kuiper-Assessment-2001.pdf

Levidow, L., Carr, S., & Wield, D. (2005, August). European Union regulation of agri-biotechnology: precautionary links between science, expertise and policy. Beech Tree Publishing, 10 Watford Close, Guildford, Surrey GU1 2EP, England, Science and Public Policy, 32(4), pp.261–276. Retrieved from http://technology.open.ac.uk/cts/peg/sppaug2005eu%20fin.pdf

Loken, J.K. (1995, January). The HACCP food safety manual. CFE Publisher: Wiley

McKenna, M. (2011, August 23). Food safety in China, and the risk to the U.S. retrieved from http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/08/china-food-risk/

Nestle, M. (2010, June 15). Safe food: The politics of food safety, (California Studies in Food and Culture) (2nd ed.). California: University of California Press

Ropkins, K. & Beck, A.J. (2000). Evaluation of worldwide approaches to the use of HACCP to control food safety. Trends in Food Science & Technology, 11, pp.10-21. Retrieved from http://depa.pquim.unam.mx/amyd/archivero/HACCPylaseguridaddealimentos.articulo_1903.pdf

Schanbacher, W.D. (2010). The politics of food: The global conflict between food security and food sovereignty. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, ABC-CLIO, LLC.

Shelton, A.M., Zhao, J.Z. , & Roush, R.T. (2002). Economic, ecological, food safety, and social consequences of the deployment of Bt transgenic plants. Annual Review of Entomology, 47, pp.845–881. Retrieved from  http://www.cof.orst.edu/cof/teach/agbio2010/Other%20Readings/Shelton_BtCropMgt_AnnRevEnt2002.pdf

World Health Organization (WHO). (2012). Food security. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/trade/glossary/story028/en/  S. Department of Health & Human Services (USDHHS). (2012, February 28). U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USFDA): Sprouts Safety Alliance. http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/FSMA/ucm293429.htm

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