The Need for Speed: $15 Billion Cost of Foodborne Illness Underscores Urgent FDA Action
by Ronald White, 10/15/2014
Preventable foodborne diseases cause thousands of illnesses and deaths in the United States every year. Coupled with this pain and suffering, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently estimated that foodborne illnesses cost the American public more than $15 billion annually.
To develop this estimate, the USDA analyzed specific disease outcomes from 15 major pathogens found in food in the United States, which account for over 95 percent of the illnesses and deaths from foodborne disease. It also examined health care costs, lost wages from these illnesses, and other costs.
We can prevent thousands of cases of sickness and death, and billions of dollars in costs, that are caused by foodborne illnesses each year, but to do so, we need to improve the safety of our nation’s food supply.
The USDA's calculations build on U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates of the incidence of foodborne disease, peer-reviewed data on medical costs, and economic, medical, and epidemiological literature, and publicly available data on wages. An earlier USDA analysis found that poultry, pork, and produce contributed more than half of the total health care costs associated with foodborne illnesses.
The public health and financial costs of foodborne illnesses underscore the importance of improving our nation’s food safety system. President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) into law in January 2011 and established an 18-month deadline for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to adopt standards to implement the law. However, Congress did not give the FDA additional money to perform these duties, and the new rules languished.
Eventually, two public interest groups sued the FDA to require the agency to complete the rules. A court sided with the public interest groups and, in June 2013, ordered FDA to complete all of the rules by June 30, 2015. The groups and the agency set a revised schedule for these rules, which are essential for preventing foodborne disease. This schedule includes the Preventive Controls for Human Food and Produce Safety Standards, which are required to be in place by Aug. 20 and Oct. 31, 2015, respectively.
We can prevent thousands of cases of sickness and death, and billions of dollars in costs, that are caused by foodborne illnesses each year, but to do so, we need to improve the safety of our nation’s food supply. It is critical that the FDA meet its new deadlines and develop strong food safety rules that protect the public’s health.