ISGP Podcast: Zero [Dim] Sum Game

Although the thought may make you squeamish, a zero-tolerance policy toward food safety risk is nonscientific, impractical, and itself risky.

Dr. Don Stoeckel, who wrote in 2014 a paper titled “Zero Tolerance is a Bad Strategy to Protect Food Safety,” argues that when making regulations (particularly involving food), government agencies are often unwilling to accept any negative outcomes, like illness, as acceptable possibilities for citizens and consumers. However, zero-tolerance risk frameworks for food contamination, or safety regulations in general, are not normally scientifically based… nor are they even practically achievable.

What is acceptable risk in the food system? How do you avoid scaring consumers in the process and begin incorporating the concept of chronic disease risk into the definition of “food safety?”

A major scientific opportunity would be the development of low-cost technologies that can be applied in the field to quickly measure whether or not a variety of microbe types are present; these tools would obviously have to be highly accurate and highly sensitive. Technologies for microbial contamination ideally would need to detect up to 10 different organisms. A low cost for such testing is paramount, because the food industry is highly sensitive to cost increases.

These and other topics are examined by the hosts int he discussion of Dr. Stoeckel’s paper and the subsequent debate at the Institute on Science for Global policy’s conference convened in partnership with Cornell University in 2014 in Ithaca, New York.

For more podcasts on this topic and others, visit ISGP’s The Forum and please consider sharing this episode with others.