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Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism (California Studies in Food and Culture) Paperback – May 21, 2004

4.8 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From The New England Journal of Medicine

"Food safety is political." So claims the title of the introduction to Marion Nestle's book Safe Food, and this assertion is solidly confirmed in the pages that follow. In her instructive monograph, Nestle exposes the political workings of the system that supposedly guarantees the safety of our food. The operation of this system is unfamiliar to many, but Nestle's well-researched and carefully documented arguments convince me that the topic should be of concern to anyone who eats. Most Americans believe that the United States has the safest food supply in the world. But is this belief justified? Does the public know what the government does and does not do regarding food inspection? How many people believe that their ground sirloin is tested for Escherichia coli O157:H7, their chicken for campylobacter, and their cold cuts for listeria? How many know whether their taco shells are made from transgenic corn? Do people assume that the package label reflects this information? And most important, do they know who decides what is done to ensure food safety and why? The answers to these questions are surprisingly predictable when one considers the workings of other regulatory systems in our society. In Safe Food, we learn of food producers that place the interests of stockholders above those of the public, byzantine government agencies that work at cross-purposes, the flow of personnel between government and industry that confuses the goals of the watchdog with those of the watched, and a spectrum of citizens' groups that engage in activities ranging from responsible public advocacy to street theatrics and "biovandalism." In essence, all the troubling problems of the military-industrial complex seem also to be manifested in our food-production system. Safe Food addresses all these elements in two major sections and a conclusion that roughly correspond with the three Bs in the book's subtitle. Part one, "Resisting Food Safety," includes an account of the government agencies concerned with food safety -- there are no fewer than 12 -- and their sometimes inexplicable regulatory responsibilities. For example, the reader learns that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees the production of hot dogs in pastry dough, whereas the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates hot dogs in rolls. Beef broth and dehydrated chicken soup are regulated by the USDA, but chicken broth and dehydrated beef soup are regulated by the FDA. After this look at the regulatory side of the process, Nestle turns to a discussion of food producers' historical resistance to regulation. Since 1906, one role of USDA meat inspectors has been to exclude diseased animals from the food supply. The suggestion to refocus oversight on specific pathogens by instituting Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) systems at critical points in food production has been repeatedly deferred by political and legal actions since the early 1980s. For example, from 1971 until the mid-1990s, the meat industry argued successfully that foodborne pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7 are inherent components of raw meat and therefore not "adulterants" that are subject to regulation. Part two of the book recounts the efforts of biotechnology firms to introduce genetically modified foods onto the farm and into the food supply. This introduction was accomplished with the complicity of government agencies but largely without the knowledge or consent of the public. Industry aggressively promotes genetically engineered foods as the solution to world hunger. But what evidence supports this claim? And what of the hidden dangers of so-called Frankenfoods to our health and economy that some outspoken critics predict? Nestle stresses two major themes here: the exploitation of science-based justifications for points of view on either side of the question, and the notion that public opinion in these matters is often based on values, a sense of dread, and a healthy distrust of institutions, rather than on scientific principles. The conclusion, which deals with bioterrorism, may be the weakest part of the book. Here the author uses examples of novel foodborne diseases, such as mad cow disease, to show how authorities might react to a deliberate contamination of the food supply. A few minor inaccuracies in the argument are more annoying than substantive, but the premise itself is a bit of a stretch. The last major revolution in food safety in this country followed the publication of Upton Sinclair's 1906 fictional expose, The Jungle. Remarkably, our system for securing the food supply has grown in size and complexity but only marginally in scope since then. Safe Food will probably not generate the public uproar that Sinclair's book did, but it expresses in scholarly terms the compelling reasons for undertaking another reorganization of the system. An advocate holding a passionate and transparent point of view, Nestle concludes her book with a list of specific suggestions for the food industry, the federal government, and the public. As citizens, consumers, and patient advocates, physicians would be wise to be informed about these issues and their possible solutions. N. Cary Engleberg, M.D.
Copyright © 2003 Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved. The New England Journal of Medicine is a registered trademark of the MMS. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Highlights of the food industry's hostility to safety regulation can be found in Marion Nestle's "Safe Food . . . a book which, like Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation, makes you think before you eat."--"The Washington Monthly

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Product Details

  • Series: California Studies in Food and Culture (Book 5)
  • Paperback: 366 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; Reprint edition (May 21, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520242238
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520242234
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,187,488 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Marion Nestle is Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, which she chaired from 1988-2003. She also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. Her degrees include a Ph.D. in molecular biology and an M.P.H. in public health nutrition, both from the University of California, Berkeley.

She has held faculty positions at Brandeis University and the UCSF School of Medicine. From 1986-88, she was senior nutrition policy advisor in the Department of Health and Human Services and managing editor of the 1988 Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health.

Her research examines scientific, economic, and social influences on food choice and obesity, with an emphasis on the role of food marketing.

She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (California Press, 2002, revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (California Press, 2003, revised edition 2010), and What to Eat (North Point Press, 2006). Her latest book, Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine, was published by California Press in 2008. Feed Your Pet Right, co-authored with Malden Nesheim, will be published by Free Press in May, 2010.

She writes the Food Matters column for the San Francisco Chronicle, and blogs daily (almost) at www.foodpolitics.com and for the Atlantic Food Channel at http://amcblogmte4.atlantic-media.us/food/nutrition.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on July 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
"Safe Food" is a terrific look at the issues involved in keeping our food supply uncontaminated. It is also a look behind the scenes at how our democracy really works, and it's not a pretty sight. Corporations choosing profits over public health, government representatives more often than not siding with industry rather than consumers, corruption, greed, and ineptitude are all part of this fascinating story. Highly recommended!
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Format: Hardcover
This is a well-written book by an author with experience in both the scientific and public affairs aspects of food quality and safety. Marion Nestle makes an effort to describe the complex scientific procedures associated with foodborne disease investigation, and the creation of bioengineered foodstuffs, reasonably clear to the layman / woman. Her message is simple and direct: as far as US government regulatory agencies, and the food industry itself, are concerned, food safety and wholesomeness is regarded as a secondary consideration to corporate profit. Her thesis is supported by a wide and varied list of references, including the scientific literature, print media, and quotes from participants involved in the struggle to make food safety one of the more urgent issues in contemporary public health. "Safe Food" covers such important topics as the outbreaks of E. coli caused by feces-contaminated ground beef; the ineptly regulated release of genetically engineered crops into farm systems and the spread of transgenes into native species; and the farcical (but ultimately tragic) mishandling of the "mad cow" epidemic by a British government blindly devoted to promotion of the beef industry. In each instance, Nestle documents how the food and agrochemical industries conspired to weaken federal oversight of food safety and quality by manipulating politicians and government officials, all in order to maximize profits.

The book is not perfect; some of the sections describing various scientific procedures may have benefited from the inclusion of explanatory diagrams, rather than somewhat belabored text descriptions. But overall, "Safe Food" is an important and timely book, and one well worth reading by anyone concerned about the quality of the food we eat.
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Format: Paperback
As a food safety trainer I did not realise the rest of what has and is going on to deliberatly sell us food that is not fit for the purpose all in the interest in profit.

One could have doubted what was written but we have just had the blatent disregard for food safety by 'CADBURY' the famous chocolate people claiming that only minute traces of bacteria may be present.

You either have bacteria or no bacteria there is no halfway house, this book will open everyone's eyes.
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Format: Paperback
The well-known academic author is no stranger to the food safety literature. She has written three popular accounts, Safe Food (2003), Pet Food Politics (2008), and Food Politics (2013). As a food insider her exposés are comprehensive, authoritative and uniquely informative.
And Greg Palast fans will be well aware of the corporate malfeasance milieu in the US and as it turns out two of the most egregious and foul government offenders are the FDA and the USDA, each charged with aspects of food safety. Based on past performance there is NO reason to believe any statement, proclamation or promise from these agencies to be anything other than the position statements of industry lobbyists. Big Money will always assure that Big Food and Big Pharma will have their wallets open when any officeholder in Washington knocks on their door. This level of overinfluence, which in most civilized nations would be considered criminal, leaves the lives of millions of US eaters are in the balance and ready for corporate abuse. An Economist review says that her book argues "that America's agribusiness lobby has stifled the government's regulatory power,... and hampered the government's ability to offer sound, scientific nutritional advice."
The industry goal is clearly to encourage eaters to consume more and more, food that is deadlier and deadlier, and regulated less and less. The food wars are much more about how to shave a few pennies off of the price of food no matter what the cost in disease and death. One author called the industry-inspired policy machinations Death by Food Pyramid.
Marion Nestle's book "What to Eat" is also a classic and is frequently cited by Michael Pollan in his writing.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
"Safe Food" is a terrific look at our nation's food supply and its safety. This book covers pathogens, genetic modifications and bioterrorism. It is also a look behind the scenes at how our democracy affects what foods end up on our plates. Corporations choose profits over public health, government sides with industry rather than consumers, corruption, greed, and ineptitude are all part of this fascinating story.

The kindle version of this book is not perfect. Some diagrams and charts were cut off or difficult to follow. Though maybe now slightly out of date, overall, "Safe Food" is an important book, and one well worth reading by anyone concerned about the quality of the food we eat.
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