Food Politics

UNC Professor Wishes Everyone Would Stop Complaining About Food Safety

You still might want to wash your lettuce.
You still might want to wash your lettuce. Photo: iStockphoto

Over in Germany, the country is still dealing with the slow end of what the AP is calling “the deadliest outbreak of E. coli ever” — 37 people have died during the epidemic, which everyone now knows was caused by vegetable sprouts. But it’s only 37 people, right? The population of Germany is like 80 million people! So 37 people is a figure that’s, like, whatever. And one of the people who died was Swedish, so that makes it count even less! Why is everyone all in a tizzy about food safety when even the most tainted food only kills .0000000463 percent of a country’s population?

This is what Peter Coclanis — professor and director of the Global Research Institute at the University of North Carolina — wants to know! In an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal, Coclanis laments the existence of “raging critics of ‘industrial agriculture,’ ‘factory farms’ and our ‘lax’ regulatory regime.” Looking at last year’s egg-related salmonella outbreak, Coclanis points out that while 1,939 people got sick during the outbreak, not one person died because of it. He goes on to point out that “eight people a day, on average, die from ingesting ‘bad’ food — mostly the very old, the very young, and people with severely compromised immune systems.” Only eight people! And they’re basically all old or young or sick anyway!

So, he concludes, America’s food supply is actually very safe and there’s no reason for us to freak out every time some industrial eggs make 2,000 people sick, okay? Why should we bother with making our food supply safer when it’s already pretty safe?

But Coclanis is missing the larger point about industrial farming and food safety: Many of the processes that make our food safer also make it taste so much worse. Take raw milk, for example. Not only is there that thrill you get from the potential danger of drinking it, it also actually tastes like milk, instead of the vaguely creamy super-pasteurized stuff in supermarkets — safety be damned!

New E. coli sicknesses in Germany continue to decline; death toll up to 37 [AP via WP]
Food Is Much Safer Than You Think [WSJ]

UNC Professor Wishes Everyone Would Stop Complaining About Food Safety