Galway City Tribune - Opinion Piece
John's crusade gives people plenty of food for thoughtJuly 7, 2011 - 1:53pm
Food has become increasingly a life and death issue and not just in the famine-wracked countries of Africa.
The recent E coli outbreak in Germany resulted in the deaths of 48 people and infected more than 4,000 people – that’s twice as many people as the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the Gulf Oil spill combined.
The medical cost of the disaster has been estimated at €2.5 billion. It cost fresh food farmers on the continent at least €1.2 billion.
The Germans rushed to blame Spanish organic cucumbers, before they turned their attention to lettuce and tomatoes and later bean sprouts as the source. Last week the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control blamed fenugreek seeds sourced in Egypt.
Closer to home the Irish pork crisis of 2008 gave us a taste of the devastation wreaked by a food scare.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland recalled from the market all Irish pork products after it was discovered that one Irish manufacturer had supplied contaminated animal feed to 37 beef farms and nine pig farms.
Within two days of the first announcement 1,800 jobs had been lost in the Irish pig industry.
Some 100,000 pigs were slaughtered even though veterinary authorities said they thought only 10 of Ireland's 500 pig farms had been contaminated by dioxin-tainted feed
The Irish Government insisted that the threat to public health from Irish beef products, even though the dioxin levels were higher than in the affected pork, was insignificant.
Within 36 hours there were over 1,700 newspaper articles on the crisis with the Daily Mirror declaring: ‘Poison pork panic: Irish pigs were fed on plastic bags’.
The European Food Safety Authority said it considered that the levels of dioxin and dioxin like PCBs in Irish pork, before the contaminated pork was withdrawn, posed no risk to health. They found that if a consumer ate Irish pork each day over the 90-day period, 10% of which was contaminated, the "increase in the body burden [would be] of no concern for this single event".
In the "very extreme case" of eating large amounts of 100% contaminated Irish pork every day over the 90-day period in question, the authority considered that "this unlikely scenario would reduce protection, but not necessarily lead to adverse health effects".
The scare cost producers over €100 million and devastated an industry worth €750 million annually.
The impact of both crises would have been curtailed had there been a more robust global system. And that is what Shantalla native John Keogh has been working on for almost three years.
“We can’t continue to do total recalls. If we are using global standards it should be possible to trace the produce back to the one farm. Too often in Europe there is a total recall instead of a pointed recall of an affected batch of lot,” he explains.
“The population is going to be nine billion by 2050, it’s said we’re going to need two planets to feed everyone. Yet 50% of food produced is not consumed. That has to stop. If we implemented global standards on every product, even an apple, we could have a traceability system that we could trust.”
For the last three years, John is the senior vice-president responsible for product safety and recalls for GS1, a global non-profit industry standards group funded by companies. He works mainly out of an office in Brussels.
He believes the ability to rapidly identify unsafe products and then remove them from the supply chain across pharmaceuticals, medical devices, toys, consumer goods and food is one of the most important challenges facing the world.
He points to a 2008 study which found that it takes an average of 18 days for large food manufacturers to sense the need for a recall and issue one.
For more, read this week's Galway City Tribune.