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Bad beef, killer cold cuts, mercury-contaminated fish, and salmonella-infected sprouts are just a few of the food scares that have made recent headline news. On top of this, there have been warnings about the need to safeguard the country's food supply from poisoning by terrorists. Added to this anxiety is the ongoing controversy here and abroad over the safety of genetically modified foods. Other evidence of this high interest in the topic of food safety is the extensive media coverage being received by Marion Nestle following the publication of her new book Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism, (Univ. of California Pr., 2003). Nestle's provocative book has been stirring up considerable controversy as she takes food companies, government agencies, and the scientific community to task.
Food safety is a timely topic that is of importance to libraries serving the general public, the food industry, and academic programs ranging from food science to restaurant management. However, locating information on food safety is complex because of the myriad government agencies involved in the regulation of food production, processing, and distribution. Given the controversial nature of this subject, it is particularly important that librarians scrutinize information closely to ensure that it is not biased. This guest column assists librarians in sorting out the key agencies responsible for this fragmented oversight and in identifying the most credible sources of information on this highly politicized subject. Although a fair number of interesting books in addition to Nestle's Safe Food have been published on the topic, this column's focus is on sources most useful for reference service. Additionally, while there are a number of relevant research institutes, their inclusion is beyond the scope of this column.
The guest columnist is well qualified to write on this topic. Nabe serves as the Agriculture and Natural Resources Librarian at the University of Connecticut. He earned his library degree from the University of Illinois and holds a bachelor of science degree in zoology from Southern Illinois University. In between earning these degrees, Nabe worked for the Forest Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Coincidentally, the latter agency plays a role in food safety as it conducts seafood inspections. Nabe has published on topics as wide ranging as the literature of evolution, building biology collections, the impact of the Web on information services for the sciences, and the impact of e-journal bundling on academic libraries.--Editor
Food safety is on a lot of people's minds of late because of the emergence of genetically engineered crops, disturbing demands for food recalls, and the potential for bioterrorism via the nation's food supply. Less sensational, but more insidious, is the prevalence of individual cases of food-borne illness. One estimate of the impact of food-borne illnesses in the U.S. is eighty-one million illnesses, nine thousand deaths, and tens of billions of dollars per year. (1) The costs of the failure of food safety mechanisms are increased by food recalls: in September and October 2002, one Wisconsin company alone recalled 2.8 million pounds of ground beef. (2) The …