I'm responding to a recent letter to the editor entitled "Vegan diet and the flu epidemic" in which the author blamed the flu and many other illnesses on the way animals are raised for food.
The letter implies that food safety measures are worse than they used to be and characterizes large farms as flu factories. The reality is that modern production practices have virtually eliminated some formerly common causes of human foodborne illness. For example, farmers create controlled environments that include fresh drinking water, adequate food, proper ventilation and slatted floors, which decrease animal contact with manure and therefore decrease the potential for fecal borne pathogens.
Pathogens have largely disappeared with the movement of pigs to indoor housing. Other common foodborne pathogens, such a salmonella, have been greatly reduced because of indoor management. When raising cattle for beef, E-coli illnesses have greatly decreased due to farmer investments in research. According to the Food and Drug Administration, less than 1 percent of foodborne illness outbreaks in the U.S. today involve dairy products. Compare that to 1938 when approximately 25 percent of foodborne illness outbreaks were attributed to milk and dairy products.
During the past 10 years, foodborne illnesses have dropped 20 percent, even though the U.S. population has increased by 10 percent. As a result, U.S. consumer risk of contracting a fatal foodborne illness is .001 percent, and the food industry is working to reduce that figure even further.
The bottom line is farmers and the food industry are constantly evolving to further improve food safety. Great strides have been made, not only with avoiding potential illness from animal agriculture, but with fruits and vegetables as well. Americans have access to the safest food supply in the world and farmers are dedicated to producing healthy food for everyone.
Vegetable grower and Somerset County Farm Bureau President