Foodborne illness costs $152 bln annually: Study
Washington: Foodborne illnesses cost the United States USD 152 billion in health-related expenses each year, far more than prior estimates, according to a study released by consumer and public health groups on Wednesday.
Food safety advocates are hoping the study will boost efforts in Congress to overhaul the nation`s antiquated food safety system that has seen consumer confidence plunge.
In recent years, the food supply has been battered by a series of high-profile outbreaks, many involving produce, such as lettuce, spinach, peppers and peanuts, leading to a rash of illnesses and even death for consumers.
Dozens of pathogens, many of them unknown, creep into the food supply each year. The price tag includes medical costs, lost productivity and quality-of-life, according to a study from the Produce Safety Project.
"This is significantly more than previous official estimates and it demonstrates the serious burden that foodborne illness places on society," said Sandra Eskin, a spokeswoman with Make Our Food Safe Coalition, a group of consumer, public health and other groups pushing for stronger food safety laws.
The latest study to delve into foodborne illnesses comes as Congress works to craft legislation that would mark the first major overhaul of the food safety system in 50 years.
The House passed its bill last July and the Senate, which has been bogged down with healthcare and regulatory reform, is expected to act this year.
The goal is to bring the food safety bill to a Senate vote around the Easter break and get it to President Obama by May, said Senator Tom Harkin on Tuesday during a hearing on agricultural appropriations. Harkin is the head of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which unanimously approved a food safety bill in November.
"My hope... is that the sobering numbers of this report will compel the Senate to act immediately on food safety legislation," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who has vigorously pushed for food safety reform. "We literally can not afford to wait."
Past official government estimates of health-related costs of foodborne illness have ranged from USD7 billion to as much as USD35 billion, but they considered only limited costs and pathogens, according to the report.
The new study, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts and Georgetown University, considered a total of 27 known pathogens --such as salmonella and listeria -- and looked at more health-related costs, pushing the price tag to USD152 billion.
Overall, foodborne illness costs related to produce were responsible for USD39 billion of that total.
Many firms including Kellogg Co, whose company lost nearly USD70 million in products from the recent peanut recall, and ConAgra Foods have been among those affected.
An estimated 76 million people in the United States get sick each year with foodborne illness and 5,000 die, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study found Kentucky had the lowest cost per foodborne case at USD1,731. Alternatively, greater exposure to higher cost pathogens pushed the price tag to about USD2,008 per case in Hawaii. The average cost in the United States was USD1,851.
Typical medical costs from a case of foodborne illness range from USD78 in Montana to USD162 in New Jersey with much of the difference due to physician and hospital charges. The average productivity loss from a case of foodborne illness is between USD377 in Mississippi and USD924 in Delaware.
First Published: Thursday, March 04, 2010, 00:00
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