Food Safety and Foodborne Illnesses

Corporate wealth versus people's health

Food safety? For whom!

Many acute and lifetime diseases, ranging from diarrhoeal or digestive diseases to gastro-intestinal to various forms of cancer are induced by unsafe food. According to WHO foodborne and waterborne diarrhoeal diseases taken together, do kill about 2.2 million people every year. 1.9 million of them are children.


The following Report reveals how governments and organisations use the term “food safety” to manipulate market access and market control. Market access is limited by national trade rules under the influence of global organisations and corporate interests enforced by their lobbyists.


the food monopoly In its 37-page report, GRAIN spends time showing how bilateral trade agreements inhibit developing nations from controlling imports and exports. Rules generated by the World Trade Organization, in the name of food safety, “do little to protect public health, serving only corporate growth imperatives and profit margins.” Several specific examples are given. (To follow developing and ongoing bilateral trade agreements, visit


Foodborne illness, or foodborne disease and commonly named as food poisoning, is any illness resulting from the consumption of contaminated food, pathogenic bacteria, viruses, or parasites that contaminate food, rather than chemical or natural toxins. Inappropriate handling, dabbled preparation, or incorrect food storage are a few of the causes. But the disease can also be caused by pesticides, the addition of natural, medical, or chemical and toxic substances.


In addition to disease caused by direct bacterial infection, some foodborne illnesses are caused by exotoxins which are excreted by the cell as the bacterium grows. Exotoxins can produce illness even when the microbes that produced them have been killed. Symptoms typically appear after 24 hours depending on the amount of toxin ingested.


Foodborne diseases and threats to food safety constitute a growing public health problem and WHO's mission is to assist Member States to strengthen their programmes for improving the safety of food all the way from production to final consumption.


List of foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States:
In 1999 an estimated 5,000 deaths, 325,000 hospitalizations and 76 million illnesses were caused by foodborne illnesses within the Uinted States. Illness outbreaks lead to food recalls.


In addition to disease caused by direct bacterial infection, some foodborne illnesses are caused by exotoxins which are excreted by the cell as the bacterium grows. Exotoxins can produce illness even when the microbes that produced them have been killed. Symptoms typically appear after 24 hours depending on the amount of toxin ingested.


Acording to WHO, foodborne diseases and threats to food safety constitute a growing public health problem.


CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) comment the situation as follows:


"… We estimate that foodborne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. Known pathogens account for an estimated 14 million illnesses, 60,000 hospitalizations, and 1,800 deaths. Three pathogens, Salmonella, Listeria, and Toxoplasma, are responsible for 1,500 deaths each year, more than 75% of those caused by known pathogens, while unknown agents account for the remaining 62 million illnesses, 265,000 hospitalizations, and 3,200 deaths. Overall, foodborne diseases appear to cause more illnesses but fewer deaths than previously estimated." (quotation end)


About 76 million foodborne illnesses every year are estmated just in the United States (26,000 cases for 100,000 inhabitants), 2 million in the United Kingdom (3,400 cases for 100,000 inhabitants) and 750,000 in France (1,220 cases for 100,000 inhabitants). In Australia, there are an estimated 5.4 million cases of food-borne illness every year, with 11,500 new daily cases of food poisoning. And 120 People die due to food poisoning each year in Australia.


Japan: Minamata disease´, Niigata Minamata disease
Spain: Toxic oil syndrome
United Kingdom:
          2005 Outbreak of E.coli O157 in South Wales
          1996 Outbreak of E.coli O157 in Lanarkshire, Scotland


Global – The Bird Flu:
H5N1 (Infectuous Avian Influenza):


A first case of bird flu occured in HongKong in 1997.
The outbreak began in southeast Asia in mid 2003.


It hit Europe in 2005. and as of 2006, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, more than 260 human cases of H5N1 avian flu have been confirmed in humans.


Inexorably it spread over the globe. Health care officials have documented cases of H5N1 in humans worldwide. It hit Asia, Africa and Eurasia.


In Asia, cases have been documented in;
Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Iraq, Laos, Myanmar, Pakistan, Thailand, and Vietnam.


In Africa, human cases were found in:
Dijbouti, Egypt and Nigeria. In Eurasia: Turkey.


The highly virulent Bird Flu Verson H1N1 were found in:


Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. In Africa, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d' Ivoire, Dijbouti, Ghana, Egypt, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan and Togo.


In Middle East infections with H1N1 were documented in:
Israel, Palestian Authority Territories and Saudi Arabia.


In Eurasia:
Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkey confirmed poultry cases.


The H1N1 virus also spread to Europe:
Albania, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Sweden, Ukraine and the United Kingdom


To Asia:
Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, China, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Kuwait, Mongolia, Thailand and Vietnam. While in Africa, the nations of Egypt, Cote d'Ivoire and Nigeria have documented wild bird cases. In Eurasia Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkey also have H1N1 in the wild bird population. In Europe, H1N1 cases were confirmed in wild birds in Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.


To get this explosive subject more into focus, please read an excerpt of the following article from GRAIN, found at Global Resources, May 11, 2011 (written by Rady Ananda):


A new briefing by GRAIN examines how "food safety" is being used as a tool to increase corporate control over food and agriculture, and discusses what people can do and are doing about it. Below is a snapshot of what's inside. The full briefing is available here.




The steady stream of scandals, outbreaks of disease and regulatory crack-downs that is part and parcel of the industrial food system has made food safety a major global issue. Our growing reliance on corporate food and farming concentrates and amplifies risk in new and unprecedented ways, at scales never seen before, making intervention more necessary than ever to ensure that food does not make people sick. But behind all of the talk and action lies another agenda.


"Food safety" may sound like it is about protecting people's health or even the environment. The European Union boasts of a food safety system that runs "from farm to fork", a language meant to make consumers feel assured that someone is watching out for them. But what happens these days in the name of "food safety" is not so much about consumers or safety as it is about getting everyone who is involved in food production, preparation, and delivery to conform to a number of "standards" set by supermarkets and the food service industry that are first and foremost about ensuring their profits.


Governments may set the frame for food safety through a number of policies and administrative measures (inspection services, and so on), but the private sector draws up and implements the actual standards. This public-private division (and collusion) creates a host of problems, because we end up with a situation where:


o the industrial food sector is essentially regulating itself, which reinforces the case that food safety is not primarily about public health, especially when it manifests itself in terrible food poisoning outbreaks; and, o governments end up working for the corporate sector, even though this is not their role, because the regulatory system is public while the standards are private.


Now, thanks to globalisation and the loosening of rules around trade and investment, this model of food safety is spreading– subjecting farmers, fisherfolk, and food industry workers all over the world to its corporate dictates. If Indians want to sell fish or grapes to the European Union, they have to conform to EU regulations and the standards set by the supermarket chains that control the EU market. If Brazilians wants to sell poultry or soya to Saudi Arabia, the Gulf state's criteria will kick in. "Fine", you may think. "This is only about big industrial farm operations anyway." But the idea – and reality – is that countries adopt these standards and apply them to domestic markets as well, ultimately impacting on all farmers in any given country. They are not just for exporters.


Who sets those standards? And who benefits from them?


More food is traded across borders than ever before. The World Trade Organisation's agreement on agriculture started slashing farms tariffs and quotas almost 20 years ago. Since then, the battle line of food trade disputes has shifted to what are called "non-tariff" barriers, such as food safety standards. Today, if you want to protect your country's farmers from competition, you can't put a sign at the border saying "We have enough melons, keep out!" But you can put up a sign saying "We only accept melons that are halal, 15-20 cm in diameter, rinsed with potable water and certified to have been grown on farms with their own toilet facilities." Great for Carrefour, whose specially contracted suppliers will produce those very melons. But what about small farmers who can't handle all these criteria and the costs of certification that come along with them? If they are shut out of the supermarkets, what other options do they have?


An increasing share of the food that people buy is delivered to them through the supply chains of transnational supermarkets and food service corporations. Globally, food retail turns over US$4 trillion in sales each year. Supermarkets accounted for over half (51%) of those sales in 2009, with the top 15 corporations realising 30% of them. Pooled together, the top ten food retailers (Walmart, Carrefour, Metro, Tesco, Schwarz, Kroger, Rewe, Costco, Aldi and Target) raked in $1.1 trillion in 2009, enough to make them the thirteenth-richest "country" in the world. These are the firms shaping today's food safety systems and they wield enormous power in deciding not only where food is produced and where it is sold, but exactly how it is produced and handled.


There are all manner of development funds, micro-credit, and government subsidy programmes designed to help small farmers comply with these corporate standards. Through such programmes, a small number do manage to find tenuous spots producing on contract for supermarkets like Tesco or food-service companies like McDonalds. But the reality is that most farmers are simply shut-out, since supermarkets prefer to work with larger suppliers and farms. The space for a small farmer growing cabbages in China or potatoes in Zambia to market his or her produce is thus quickly shrinking as supermarkets and food service companies expand and as alternative channels, like wet markets and street vendors, are closed down by governments bent on applying the corporate standards. Only the corporations win in this situation– not food producers or workers and not consumers.


How do we get out of this mess?


The corporate hijack of the food supply is not going unchallenged. A growing counter-movement of people is showing how real food safety can come only from a different model of food and agriculture. Small-scale farmers teach us that food safety is not achieved through "zero tolerance" for micro-ogranisms or the "extreme hygiene" approach espoused by big corporations (pasteurisation, irradiation, sterilisation, etc.). Destroying biodiversity, including microflora and fauna, creates instability, which manifests itself in disease. It is better to aim for balances or equilibria through diversity, as these are the real pillars of harmony and health. This requires knowhow and it relies on short distances between production and consumption, but both are hallmarks of the alternative kind of food systems that a lot of people yearn for.


We must vigorously defend small vendors and street foods, as they often get vilified and wiped out in the name of food safety. Farmers' markets, community-supported agriculture, small shops and street hawkers – these are or can be the backbones of local economies and of what many believe is healthier food. Support for such circuits is on the upswing, but they need a lot more investment and effort, including on the specifics of food safety per se. Similarly, campaigns to keep foreign supermarkets like Walmart away or to prevent other countries from imposing their food standards are extremely important.


At the end of the day, food safety is about who controls our food. Should that be the corporations, or should that be us?


Main points from the briefing:








  1. While it sounds like it's about public health, it's really about corporate wealth. Successive scandals, outbreaks of disease and regulatory crack-downs have made "food safety" a huge global issue. On the surface, all of the action appears to be directed at ensuring proper hygiene so that people don't get sick from food. But the deeper reality is that food safety has become a crucial battleground over the future of food and agriculture and a device to extend corporate control.
  2. Industrial agriculture is very much the problem. Food safety risks are amplified by industrial-scale food production, processing, and marketing. A small farm producing a tainted product (e.g. salmonella in eggs) will affect only a small number of people. A large farm doing the same will hurt a large number of people, often across borders. Many of the worst food safety problems are generated by bad practices associated with industrial agriculture – heavy use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, use of antibiotics and other pharmaceutical compounds for non-therapeutic purposes, high stock densities that favour disease outbreak, abuse of animals to raise productivity and lower costs, and bad labour practices.
  3. Governments frame the rules but industry sets the standards. Food safety policy is broadly overseen by public agencies. Governments set and oversee the laws. But the food industry – from input suppliers to retailers – defines the standards and implements them. This results in standards that are highly biased toward corporate needs, and voluntary (i.e. self-regulation). Control over standards puts corporations in the driver's seat and leaves governments having to account for or clean up the mess.
  4. Corporations win, people lose. Corporate standards are primarily about maximising profits and organising markets, not about food safety. Of course, the food industry gains nothing by killing people or making them seriously ill, but with their dominance over markets and in the absence of regulatory regimes that hold them responsible, corporations can treat food safety incidents as a mere cost of doing business.
  5. Trade agreements are the core mechanism to expand and enforce food safety standards across the globe today. The US and the EU aggressively use trade policy, especially bilateral free trade agreements, to push their standards and regulate market access in favour of their agribusiness firms. However, exporters are not the only ones affected. Countries that adopt these industry standards, especially in the global South, apply them to domestic markets as well. As small-scale food producers, processors and vendors cannot comply, they are shut out of markets and even criminalised for their traditional practices.
  6. Standards are spreading everywhere. Corporations and governments are stretching the regulations around food safety to extend control over the food trade. Soon it will be impossible to sell a Thai chicken or a Brazilian beefsteak to the European Union if the animals were not reared and slaughtered according to European animal welfare considerations. Similarly, there is huge commercial interest now in defining and setting global rules for the halal food trade.
  7. Real food safety comes from balances, not extremes. Small farmers and processors teach us that we can achieve food safety through biodiversity, knowledge and the stability that equilibria provide. As the French farmer Guy Basitanelli of La Confédération Paysanne puts it, "Managing microbial balances, and protecting and producing specific flora based on a respect for traditional and local practices, is what best guarantees safety." By contrast, the corporate system's reliance on extreme hygiene through forced sterilisation and industrial technologies (like irradiation or nanotech) leads to instability.
  8. People are doing a lot to undo this corporate hijack. There is a strong counter-movement working to weaken the grip of agribusiness over the dominant food system and to promote better approaches. "Food safety" or more broadly speaking "food quality" is at the centre of these battles, whether it is people and organisations resisting the entry/expansion of supermarkets and agribusiness corporations, patronising local foods and community markets, boycotting big chains and dubious products (from GMOs to US beef), supporting food industry workers in their struggles for fair wages, entitlements and collective rights, stopping so-called free trade deals, or reforming agricultural policies to support peasant agriculture. This movement is growing, but it needs more support to become the backbone of our food economies and to put "food safety" back in people's hands.

GRAIN's conclusion:
“We may want to stop talking about food safety altogether and assert instead our own demands for food quality, or something similarly more holistic. Food safety, or food quality in broader terms, is a ground on which big corporate agriculture and supermarket cultures cannot outperform small producers and local markets. The challenge is to ensure that the small and the local can remain alive and turn today's heightened concerns for food safety in our favour.”



If we consider all the new diseases, allergies and individual intolerances, experienced and grown in just the last few years,regardless of individual age, i.e. babies to adults, there is no more time left for "watch and see." Ref: front|foodsafety2011-synopsis


About the author


I met them all - the good, the bad and the ugly. As a multi awarded marketing and management strategy consultant I worked for small, medium and global players, s.a. Apple, Ericsson. Siemens, Sun Micro Systems. Also Startup awarded, I guide startups to establish their move into commercial world and to get on track. Many awards from companies, government institutions and trusted world’s leading businesses advisors underline my profile and performance during the past more than 25 years. My principle: "panta rhei" (everything flows) - “there’s always a chance - catch it and change”

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8 Responses to Food Safety and Foodborne Illnesses

  1. Elzira says:

    i think it should have more educational articles like yours, so everyone would be able to learn something new.

    • whuzzanaim says:

      Hey Elzira, thanks for your comment, yes you’re right, but most people already got blunt by all the “every day shortcomings”. They have given up because if things in this world change, then most certainly not to their advantages. Thus, most of us citizens just concetrate to making the private and family living. You can see that by election turnouts. Worldwide. Since banks can create money from nothing, they have the world in their hands. The private John Does, the governments and of course the commerce. Winston Churchill said once: “kites rise highest against the wind, not with it”. There are too less kites out there at this time. i’m afraid.

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  3. To coze nic says:

    Most of the imported gas comes to Slovakia through the pipelines. This is also caused by historical factors. In the years 1945-89, the People’s Republic of Slovakia (bounded politically and economically with the Soviet Union) built the many gas pipelines that linked it with other countries of the soviet bloc, including Eastern Germany (which is important for present energy relations between Slovakia and Germany) to ensure maximal bounds between the USSR and PRP.

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