The recently-passed Food Safety Modernization Act, which was passed in order to prevent food-borne illness deaths in the USA, will cost $1.4 billion over the first five years. But nobody thinks about the economics of the issue. How many people are we going to save by spending this $1.4 billion, even assuming it works?
To answer that question, let’s look at the food illness fatality figures offered by the CDC:
- Out of the 5,000 food-borne illness deaths each year in the United States, only 1,809 are “attributable to foodborne transmission” according to the CDC (http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol5no5/mead.htm#Table%203).
- E.coli, which is often quoted in the big scare stories about food safety, only kills 78 people a year through food-borne transmission (52 plus 26, from the CDC’s chart). Interestingly, according to the CDC’s own numbers (from 1998), more people are killed from being struck by lightning each year than from e.coli.
- Listeria kills 499 people and Salmonella kills 553 people. But salmonella poisoning is easily acquired from store-bought chickens, of which two-thirds are contaminated with salmonella every day! Since the food safety bill doesn’t even address chickens, cows or other animals because those are handled by the USDA, this salmonella fatality figure probably won’t be reduced at all. (Salmonella comes largely from animals: Fowl, reptiles, etc.)
So how many people will the Food Safety Modernization Act actually impact? It’s primarily going to address e.coli poisoning and Listeria contamination. So we’re talking about a grand total of 78 + 499 people each year, or 577 people.
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