According to a February 2009 study conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of the American Society for Quality (ASQ), 73% of Americans are just as concerned about food safety as they about the global war on terror. Perhaps more scary is the fact that only 48% said they trust the government’s ability to ensure the safety of food products.
On the heels of the ASQ consumer survey, President Barack Obama announced on March 14 the creation of a new cabinet-level food safety panel. The announcement comes just months after a peanut recall that could end up costing the peanut industry more than $1 billion dollars, according to the Georgia Peanut Commission’s executive director, Don Koehler, who recently testified before the U.S. House of Representatives’ small business committee.
Obama went on to detail how food borne disease outbreaks have been on the rise since the 1990s and cited outdated laws, underfunding, and a diffusion of responsibility between government agencies that have left many food processing plants uninspected. "That is a hazard to public health," Obama said. "It is unacceptable. And it will change under the leadership of Margaret Hamburg, whom I am appointing today as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration."
“The United States overall does have a safe food supply,” said Steven Wilson, member of ASQ’s board of directors and a food safety expert. “However, whether food manufacturers have process controls in place or not, some have plant sanitation issues that they need to address.” During his announcement about the creation of his new food safety panel, Obama stressed the importance of not only designing stricter laws, but enforcing them.
The total U.S. food market grew 5% to $618 billion in 2008, according to NBJ estimates. Sales of natural and organic foods, often viewed as safer alternatives by consumers, grew nearly 14% to $35 billion in 2008.