Food Contamination and Public Health

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September 3, 1997

TO: Working Group on Food Contamination and the Quality of Public Health

FROM: Ed Jennings

There have been several incidents recently in which contaminated food apparently posed a significant threat to public health. The incidents included fruit from Latin America and meat from the Hudson Foods processing plant in Nebraska. You should consider yourselves to be staff in the U.S. Department of Agriculture responsible for making recommendations to the president and the Congress. Your information sources include news sources; official records, documents and publications; expert analyses; interest groups; and interviews.

You should identify the range and extent of problems and concern about food contamination. How wide spread is the problem? What are its dimensions? How many people are affected? What are the consequences? What has been the level of public concern? Is there an active issue network addressing the issue?

You need to review and examine carefully existing proposals for improving food safety. Analyze those proposals with respect to which they address the problem or problems facing the food system, their likely effectiveness as solutions, their costs, and their administrative feasibility. What implementation barriers would have to be overcome to put the proposal in place and make them work effectively.?

Although you should focus on the technical soundness of solutions to the problem(s), you also need to analyze the politics of the situation. What values and interests are at stake? What interests have been mobilized? What is the scope of conflict? How will these factors affect the outcome?