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Keeping our food from biting us

August 22, 2008

Re "Sold on food safety," editorial, Aug. 19

The Wal-Marts and McDonald's of the world have been requiring enhanced food safety from their suppliers for more than a decade, and, as your editorial notes, they may be the best advocates for consumers. Making customers sick is bad business.

But many of the checks and balances on supplying fresh produce, like the kind involved in this year's salmonella outbreak, are hidden and poorly validated. Any commodity is only as good as its worst grower.

There are too many outbreaks and too many sick people. It's time for retailers and restaurants to market microbial food safety and compete using safety as a selling point. This would introduce a heightened level of accountability throughout the farm-to-fork food safety system and capture the imagination of a public weary of food scares.

The first company that can reliably assure consumers they aren't eating poop on spinach, lettuce, tomatoes and any other fresh produce will make millions and capture markets. May the best food safety system win.

Douglas Powell

Manhattan, Kan.

The writer is an associate professor in food safety at Kansas State University.

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By approving of the nascent role of retailers in regulating food safety, you play into the hands of those who, in the words of Grover Norquist, would like to shrink government to a size that it can be dragged into the bathtub and drowned.

After eight years of Bush administration downsizing and privatization, it is no wonder that the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture are no longer able to protect us from food-borne illnesses.

Corporations are amoral -- they are not necessarily good or bad but are driven solely by a profit motive.

Although they may have the clout to compel higher standards and better tracking, they also are in a position to dictate the rules to private food regulators whose own profits are tied directly to the very retailers they are policing. It is too cozy of a relationship.

How about downsizing and privatizing the FAA? The airlines could pay a private corporation to oversee aircraft maintenance, operations and pilot certification, and write their own rules.

How safe would you feel at 30,000 feet?

Howard S. Blum

Thousand Oaks

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