The new National Research Council food safety report, "Ensuring Safe Food: From Production to Consumption," has been used as a call for a single food safety regulatory agency and by President Clinton to establish a presidential Council of Food Safety. The alarm about food safety can be traced back to the report's executive summary that says:
Although estimates vary widely, there is agreement that foodborne illness is a serious problem. In the United States, as many as 81 million illnesses (Archer and Kvenberg, 1985) and up to 9,000 deaths (CAST, 1994) per year have been attributed to food related hazards.
Unfortunately, this part of the executive summary is directly contradicted by the report itself.
Page 55 of the report says:
The frequently cited annual estimate of foodborne disease (up to 81 million cases) and 9,000 associated deaths are based on assumptions that do not necessarily reflect the current national foodborne disease problem. Those estimates must be qualified for two reasons. First, no comprehensive population-based studies of gastrointestinal illness in the community have attempted to determine what proportion of these illnesses is due to consumption of contaminated food and what proportion is from other sources.
Despite this clear contradiction, the bogus statistics are being used to alarm the public about the safety of the food supply.
This is not the first time in recent memory the executive summary of a major government report has ignored the underlying report.
In the 1996 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on global warming, the report said "no study to date has positively attributed all or part [of observed climate changes] to anthropogenic causes." The executive summary, though, said "...the balance of evidence suggests a discernible [human] influence on climate."
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