Salmonella & E. Coli Food Poisoning Outbreaks Lead Many to Doubt Food Safety, Demand Better Labeling

Recent outbreaks of Salmonella and E. coli related <"">food poisoning linked to peanut butter, snack foods, lettuce and hamburger meat have more Americans questioning the safety of their food supply, according to a poll commissioned by a food industry trade group. A second survey by Consumer Reports Magazine has found that problems with contaminated food imports that leave many Americans severally ill with food poisoning, have increased support among the public for “country of origin” labels on food packaging.

The first survey, conducted by the Food Marketing Institute, found that 34-percent of shoppers have little confidence that the food they buy is safe. That is a significant increase from the 18-percent who felt the same way a only a year ago. With all of the high profile food poisoning cases that have been in the news lately it’s understandable that consumer confidence has been shaken so drastically. In the past year, several highly publicized food recalls have highlighted problems with the way food is produced in the United States. For instance, Peter Pan and Great Value Peanut Butter were recalled after those popular brands were linked to thousands of cases of Salmonella related food poisoning. Then, late last month, Veggie Booty, a popular children’s snack, was pulled from store shelves after many people, mostly children, who had eaten it became sick with Salmonellosis. In May, more than 5 million pounds of beef processed by United Food Group and Tyson Fresh Meat, Inc. were subject to recalls after being linked to separate E. coli outbreaks.

The Consumer Report survey found that more Americans want to know where their food is coming from. A whopping 92 –percent of respondents said they wanted a food’s country of origin to be listed on its label. The magazine said recent scares surrounding contaminated and defective Chinese products had provided the impetus for country-of-origin labeling. In the past year, contaminated pet food ingredients, toothpaste, and seafood imported from China have all been the focus of safety concerns. Just last week, Robert’s American Gourmet Foods, the maker of <"">Veggie Booty, said that it had traced the source of the snack’s Salmonella contamination to Chinese-made seasoning used on the product.

Congress did enact a country-of-origin labeling requirement for meat in 2002, but the enactment of that law has been delayed twice. The requirement is now scheduled to go into force in September of 2008.

The Consumer Report survey also said that Americans want manufactures to be more truthful in their labeling practices. For example, 86-percent said that “natural” should mean that processed foods contain no artificial ingredients, yet so-called “natural” foods often contain refined sugars and oils. By the same token, 91-percent of consumers expect “organic” seafood to be free of mercury and other contamination, but there are no guidelines currently in effect for calling seafood organic. Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports Magazine, together with the Center for Food Safety and Food and Water Watch, say they plan to petition the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Federal Trade Commission to ban the use of the term “organic” on seafood until such guidelines are in place.

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