Compared to a lot of other countries, the US has a decent track record of making our food supply healthier. Its inception was in response to contaminated and misbranded foods and medicine being distributed across state boundaries. Before then, if I wanted to make "TiChef's marvelous malediction medicine" (Patent pending), the medicine wouldn't have had to go through any rigorous federal testing or inspection for distribution. If I could sell the product well enough, then people would THINK they were getting a miracle cure. Instead though, it would just be an assorted concoction of liquids that were just laying around. If the sales pitch were good enough, placebo would kick in for early adopters, making them spread by word of mouth that my product was a miracle in a bottle.
After a while, especially if I didn't care about sanitation, people would get sick. Some would even die because of no oversight nor any real testing. I could just pack up my things, move to a different area, make the same thing, and just give it a different name! After many events like this, laws were put into place, with some of them being 25 years in the making! (And you thought congress got nothing done these days). Eventually, the FDA in the form we're familiar with was created in 1906. In 1930, it was given the name we know now.
So we're all safe and we're never going to get food poisoning again, right?
Due to an incredible lack of resources, the FDA only inspects about 2% of our food. So how come we're all not dead? In 2011, over 120,000 people were hospitalized for food borne illnesses, with just over 3,000 dying. I know that sounds like a lot, but realize that 3000 is only 1/100000 of the US population. Back in 1906, 1/100000 of the population would be 855 people. While the numbers wildly vary on this sort of thing, I would guess that far more than 855 people a year died from food borne illness 107 years ago.
With that in mind, the food industry has taken it upon itself to inspect their own food. I can't help but think it's just a slight conflict of interest, and there are already cases of it not being effective.
The Food and Drug Administration is the government institution that is supposed to keep us safe from food borne illnesses; yet it's hardly able to do the job it's supposed to. Why isn't this as big of a deal now as it was in the past? I have a few ideas on this.
- Healthcare has improved to help people recover from food borne illnesses.
- Believe it or not, poisoning people is actually BAD for business! Who knew? If you poison people, they just might not buy your product again. And then you go broke, woe is you.