Regulatory Industrial And International Implications

Regulatory authorities are also consumers and thus carry many of the biases and perceptions held by consumers in general. However, regulatory authorities typically have a higher level of training in food safety. They differ in the scope of their responsibilities and influence, working at local, state, federal, or global levels. They also differ in their experiences with food along the food chain, from farming and animal production through manufacturing, distribution, and testing, to retail and food service. These experiences will affect their definitions of safe food.

Regulatory authorities that oversee food production are more aware of the impact of agricultural chemicals, animal hormones, feed contaminants, and antibiotics and would include details of these factors in their description of safe food. In processing environments, regulators would be more apt to describe safe food in terms of the microbiological, chemical, and physical hazards associated with manufacturing. Regulatory authorities overseeing retail and food service would include the human factors such as cross-contamination by food handlers and personal hygiene behaviors.

Regulatory authorities also describe safe food according to regulations established by authorities such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Commission, and the U.S. FDA. The standards and laws set for international trade become part of the regulatory definitions of safe food. For example, the food safety standards adopted by the Joint Food Agricultural Organization/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) have become the international reference used to resolve international trade issues. Some regulatory authorities are using quantitative risk assessment to help define food safety, as well as to determine optimal intervention strategies. Scientific risk assessments have reportedly become the foundation for food safety worldwide with the issuance of the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement by the World Trade Organization (WTO) (Smith et al., 1999).

Government officials often speak of safe food in terms designed to appeal to public emotions about food safety. For example, on July 2, 1998, the U.S. Vice President challenged the U.S. Congress to fund a Food Safety Initiative and "give Americans peace of mind when they reach for a piece of food." The Vice President stated the need for "new authority to seize meat that may be contaminated, to protect America's families." However, experts know that more recall authority does not improve food safety. The U.S. Food Safety Initiative is broad in its vision and scope. A key component of the Initiative is educating consumers on the responsibilities for food safety of everyone involved in the food supply chain.

The industry sector is broad in its constituency. Farmers and ranchers are the basis on which most of the food supply chain exists. At this level, food safety is defined by the practices of the farmers and ranchers, whether in regard to chemical treatment of the soil or use of hormones in animal production. These plant and animal producers define safe food based on the practical application of production principles, balancing economic pressures of production with demands for control of hazards. Safe food at this level means doing what is practical to ensure safety and focusing on optimal use of government-approved chemicals to maximize production. Thus far, there has not been a significant focus on controlling microbiological hazards at this level of the food chain; however, there is increasing recognition of the role of farmers and ranchers in defining safe food through their practices.

The food industry defines safe food by its specifications for raw materials and finished products. These specifications define the acceptable limits for chemical hazards such as pesticides and hormones, physical hazards such as bone and metal fragments, and microbiological hazards such as Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella. The industry defines safe food in terms of pathogen reduction associated with processing technologies, whether well-established like pasteurization or new like pulsed, high-energy light.

The industrial sector also includes distribution, retail, and restaurant busi nesses, as well as related industries supporting the growth of plants and animals and the use of by-products for nonfood applications, such as for health care and clothing. Distributors, retailers, and restaurants define safe food by the expectations of their customers and the regulatory authorities.

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