12 Startling Stats On America’s Food Supply

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May 25th, 2010

The old adage “you are what you eat” is proving to be truer and truer with new research that explores the effects of diet on the human body. Yet many people aren’t really aware of what they’re eating at all and don’t question where their food came from or how it got there. Even those not in medical or nursing school can see how this is becoming a problem, with salmonella outbreaks, rampant obesity and the side effects of many chemical additives making the news all over the nation. If you want to know more about your food supply and what you’re eating, here are some stats that might surprise you.

  1. 40-50% of all food ready for harvest never gets eaten. Research done by a professor at the University of Arizona has shown that nearly half the food produced in the the United States every year goes to waste. While news of our throw-away society isn’t necessarily surprising, that so much of what we produce is wasted while millions in our own nation and those around the world go hungry should be. Additionally, this wasted food costs manufacturers billions each year.
  2. Every year, over 25% of Americans get sick from what they eat. This means some 76 million food borne infections, 350,000 of which require hospitalization and 5,000 of which are deadly. Think your food is safe? While most Americans would agree with you, the reality is that food borne illnesses in the United States are fairly common, much more so than in countries like England and France. Some believe it is because they eat more locally grown and small farmed foods that leave less room for contamination on the way to consumers’ homes.
  3. As few as 13 major corporations control nearly all of the slaughterhouses in the U.S. Why should you care? Because these major corporations pack a lot of political power, making them incredibly difficult to regulate and inspect. For consumers, this means meat production that could be less than healthy for them, the animals, and the workers who produce it.
  4. Americans eat 31% more packaged food than fresh food. This means that Americans eat more packaged and processed food than people in any other country, according to the New York Times. Packaged foods themselves aren’t necessarily bad for us, but Americans tend to consume frozen pizzas and microwave dinners, which can be high in fats and salts.
  5. The FDA tests only about 1% of food imports. We import about 15% of what we eat. This means that a good portion of the seafood and some fruits and veggies making their way to your table haven’t been inspected for quality or safety. With current scares about unsafe imported products, it can give you pause before purchasing imports over local foods.
  6. A simple frozen dinner can contains ingredients from over 500 different suppliers. NPR has shown that a basic frozen prepared meal can contain up to 50 different ingredients. These ingredients come from all over the world, changing hands numerous times along the way. This means that in order to trust that your food is safe, you have to trust that all of those hundreds of companies along the way stuck to regulations about food safety.
  7. 50% of tested samples of high fructose corn syrup tested for mercury. There has been a lot of debate about the safety and health of high fructose corn syrup lately, and some believe with pretty good reason. While producers insist that their products are safe, consumers have been put off by the fact that they contain any mercury at all, especially because HFCS is found in a wide range of food products from bread to catsup.
  8. Americans eat about six to nine pounds of chemical food additives per year. While it may seem that the amount of chemicals you’re eating in your food is inconsequential, over the year they add up. Some may be harmless to you, but others may have effects that are yet unknown over a long period of time.
  9. Food intolerance is on the rise, with as many as 30 million people in the U.S. showing symptoms. Some believe that the growth in food allergies and food intolerance may have to do with our diets. Eating yeast-based foods, preserved meats and processed foods can lead to greater levels of histamine in the body which many are incapable of processing naturally.
  10. Fewer than 27% of Americans eat the correct ratio of meats to vegetables. Studies have shown that eating too much meat increases your cancer risk, a fact reinforced by the longer life span of cultures that focus more heavily on veggies than meats. By not eating enough of these vegetables, many Americans are missing out on the healthy nutrients, minerals and compounds they contain.
  11. 80% of the food supply is the responsibility of the FDA yet the number of inspections has decreased while the number of producers has increased. While America’s food is relatively safe compared to some places, it still isn’t close to being the safest in the world., a fact that isn’t helped by the drop in number of inspections done by the FDA each year.
  12. Keeping fields contamination-free can cost well over $250,000–a discouraging sum to smaller farmers. Recent outbreaks of salmonella and other deadly bacteria in vegetables across the nation have made it all the more necessary for farmers to be cautious about the safety of their food. Yet the costs associated with keeping crops free of any possible source of contamination can be prohibitory for those without the funds, forcing farmers to choose between making a living and gambling on food safety.

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