Nestle M, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2004, 350 pages, $37.95, ISBN 0-520-24223-8
If you have ever wondered what went on behind the scenes in developing and amending food regulations or why decisions are made that are not in keeping with protecting public health and safety, then this is the book for you!
In this follow up to Food Politics, Nestle exposes the goings-on and really does illustrate why food safety is highly political. This current book extends the arguments set out in Food Politics and brings to light the many themes that underpin the political nature of food safety such as:
* Increasing concentration of food producers into larger units
* Overproduction and overabundance of food in the USA
* Competitiveness between companies to get consumers to eat more food
* Relentless pressures exerted by food companies on government agencies to make favourable regulatory decisions
* Invocation of science as a means to achieve commercial goals
* Clash in values among stakeholders in the food system
This last theme is one that carries throughout the book and Nestle refers to the different ways in which people assess risk--'science based', which balances risk against benefit and cost, versus 'values based', which balances risk against dread and outrage. She notes that the estimation of risk is a scientific question, but the acceptability of risk is a political question.
As the title suggests, the three main themes of this book relate to foodborne illness, food biotechnology and bioterrorism, although there is less emphasis on the latter. In Part 1: Resisting Food Safety, Nestle details the eventual introduction of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) into segments of the meat industry Along the way she identifies the main protagonists and antagonists and the (sometimes) dirty tricks and tactics used to defeat each attempt. One of my favourite parts in these chapters is when the United States Department of Agriculture meat inspectors, trying to discredit the HACCP approach to food safety decided that the acronym was more apt as 'Have a Cup of Coffee and Pray'!
In a similar vein, Part 2 details the behind-the-scenes lobbying around the issues of genetically modified foods, in particular the issue of substantial equivalence and the need for premarket testing and labelling.
In each part, Nestle provides very detailed case studies and uses an extensive range of references to support her assertions, including journal articles, texts, government reports, notes from congress, newspaper articles etc.
The conclusion deals with issues relating to bioterrorism, which has obviously become a more pronounced threat particularly in the USA. She suggests that this threat has necessitated a broader definition of food security and that additional efforts will need to be made to deal with it.
She concludes by stating that a number of political actions are necessary to ensure safe food and to engender trust in our food supply--introduce HACCP to all food production, disclose production processes on labels, create a single food agency to overcome the fragmented, overlapping and confusing distribution of authority for food safety, and for consumers to become more active in advocating and electing officials committed to food safety
This was a very illuminating read, but one that was quite detailed and required a lot of concentration--definitely not bedtime reading. There are some tables and figures to illustrate points, but more could have been provided to enhance the readability of the book.
There is the old adage--there is always someone worse off--and certainly this did ring true when comparing the USA and the Australian situation, especially in relation to introduction of HACCP programs, labelling of genetically modified foods and the number of agencies responsible for food safety.
This book is highly recommended for health professionals involved in the food safety field, health policy officials, consumer advocates and students of nutrition, dietetics, public health and policy.
Monash University, Melbourne
[c] 2006 The Author
Journal compilation [c] 2006 Dietitians Association of Australia