Global food production has become the mainstay of providing food for the masses. The food supply chain is so complex it may now be considered a supply web. Protecting citizens from health risks due to chemical contaminants is a gargantuan task at best.
“The new globalized food supply contrasts sharply with the landscape of previous generations when many foods were grown, manufactured, and distributed within a local area.” (Lipp & Chase, 2015) If there were any food problems, it would be confined to a more manageable geographical area.
The weary citizen is more concerned today than ever before about what they buy and demands more information about its effect on their health. An all-consuming fear has developed concerning chemical contaminants in the food supply. This fear is exacerbated by misinformation disseminated by unreliable and unscrupulous sources.
“Fortunately, available data suggest that many unregulated contaminants have a negligible effect on human health. In these cases, enacting limits would not protect consumers but would create unnecessary regulatory burden, making food more expensive but not safer, said Markus Lipp, Ph.D., former senior director of food standards at U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) and currently senior food safety officer, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN). Lipp and other experts—toxicologists, food scientists, and regulators—spoke at the “Chemical Contaminants in Foods Workshop—Risk-Based Approaches to Protect Public Health,” held at USP headquarters in Rockville, Md., in November 2014. (Lipp & Chase, 2015)
Claire L. Kruger, Ph.D., a toxicologist and president of Spherix Consulting, Inc. said,”No food is completely safe. Even water can kill you if you drink too much; everything we eat comes in shades of gray, not black, or white, with regard to safety. Foods actually possess degrees of harmfulness because all foods have the potential to cause harm. Potatoes normally contain natural toxins called glycoalkaloids in small amounts that pose no health risk, but during prolonged storage, potatoes can generate higher glycoalkaloid levels that can cause neurologic effects. Another substance, acrylamide, is formed in many foods during baking and frying, and it always has—it is nothing new—but regulators are investigating its health effects.” (Lipp & Chase, 2015)
“In 2011, news broke that arsenic had been detected in apple juice, and consumers were alarmed. Many people think of arsenic as a poison, and it certainly can act as a lethal poison. Yet arsenic is also a chemical element that occurs naturally in water and soil and does not harm people if the amount ingested is sufficiently low, said Henry Chin, Ph.D., Henry Chin and Associates and a member of the USP Food Ingredients Intentional Adulterants Expert Panel.” (Lipp & Chase, 2015)
In addition, what is the media’s role in the communication of risk and risk assessment concerning the food supply? Apparently in the media’s pell-mell rush to press accuracy and thoroughness are brushed aside in favor of timeliness and sensationalism. New studies are taken at face value with little or no support from previous studies either pro or con.
Fellow travelers should take note and consider the source of information reserving judgment until all the facts are presented. It is unfortunate that the majority of the population has a knee-jerk response to any alarmist media release about contaminants in food. A knee-jerk response only opens the door to suspiciousness and frustration as to what to eat next. “Consumers routinely turn to self-proclaimed “experts” for guidance about what to eat and what to avoid. These sources are often biased by profit motive—they are selling something—but even if not, they typically provide misinformation because they lack the knowledge, credentials, and judgment needed to provide accurate, useful advice.” (Lipp & Chase, 2015)
“Although health risks from food contaminants will never disappear completely, that is not the goal, and it is also not necessary. The dose makes the poison, and if the dose is kept at a safe level, the risk to human health is negligible, or even nonexistent. The key for public health is not to have a zero tolerance for contaminants, but rather to keep contaminants within tolerable, safe limits. Perhaps the ultimate goal is two-fold: Safe food and peace of mind from trusting that our food is safe.” (Lipp & Chase, 2015)
Lipp, M., & Chase, C. G. (2015, November Volume 69, Number 11). Chemical Contaminants in Foods: Health Risks and Public Perception. Retrieved November 19, 2015, from IFT – Feeding the Minds that Feed the World: http://www.ift.org/food-technology/past-issues/2015/november/features/chemical-contaminants.aspx?page=viewall