The U.S. food safety system is in crisis. The recent Salmonella contamination of peanut butter products and jalapeño and Serrano peppers, E. coli outbreaks in spinach and lettuce, and reports about cattle slaughter practices and the safety of farm-raised fish in China have all heightened anxieties about the vulnerability of the nation’s food supply.
Approximately 76 million Americans—one in four—are sickened by foodborne disease each year. Of these, an estimated 325,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), foodborne illnesses include “...diseases, usually either infectious or toxic in nature, caused by agents that enter the body through the ingestion of food.”
Foodborne diseases caused by major pathogens alone are estimated to cost up to $44 billion annually in medical costs and lost productivity. Major outbreaks can also contribute to significant economic losses in the agriculture and food retail industries, which account for approximately 13 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and are the largest industries and employers in the United States. Americans spend more than $1 trillion on food annually.
This report examines the existing programs at U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and examines ways to strategically restructure the agencies at HHS to better protect the nation’s food supply.