Americans want stronger food-safety rules

Among likely voters surveyed across the nation, about nine in 10 support the federal government adopting additional food-safety measures, and 64 per cent believe that imported foods are often or sometimes unsafe, according to a new Pew-commissioned poll by the bipartisan team of Hart Research and Public Opinion Strategies.

This concern about imported foods reflects a significant jump compared to the 53 per cent of voters who expressed such concerns in a 2008 survey by the same pollsters. The Federal Drug Administration is equipped to inspect less than one per cent of the imported products it regulates, according to agency data.

Overall, 58 per cent of voters are worried about bacterial contamination of the food supply — with about a third of those saying they worry "a great deal."

An estimated 76 million food-related illnesses occur annually in the United States

The survey shows American voters overwhelmingly believe the federal government should be responsible for protecting the food supply, and that the voters support numerous new measures to ensure it has the authority to do so. Those surveyed are also in support of more frequent inspections of many businesses that supply food, and are increasingly sceptical of imported foods' safety.

High-profile outbreaks of contaminated peanut butter, pistachios, peppers, spinach and other foods in recent years have caused many people to become sick across the nation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 76 million food-related illnesses occur annually in the United States, with 325,000 people hospitalized and 5,000 dying as a result.

"For too long the Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for the safety of over 80 per cent of the foods we eat, has not had adequate resources or power to protect Americans from dangers in the food supply," said Erik Olson, director of Food and Consumer Product Safety for the Pew Health Group. "This poll reflects a strong belief among most Americans that a healthy, nutritious diet is important, and they want to have confidence that their food is safe."

A total of 83 per cent of likely voters interviewed believe the federal government should be responsible for ensuring that food is safe to eat, and an even higher percentage of those surveyed — 89 per cent — support the federal government enacting new measures to better protect people from getting sick from eating contaminated food.

In addition, 91 per cent of those polled favour annual or semi-annual government inspections of facilities that process food that is at a high risk of contamination, including 75 per cent who strongly favour this. Government data show that such facilities are inspected only once a decade on average, according to FDA statistics and a review by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Release of the survey comes as the Senate is expected to consider food-safety legislation that gives the FDA new oversight and enforcement powers. In July, the House passed its version of the bill, which includes stronger inspection authorities for federal officials when investigating domestic facilities and imports.

The nationwide survey, conducted between June 29 and July 3, 2009, polled 1,005 likely voters. The survey has a +/- 3.1 per cent margin of error. Full survey results are available at

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