Ground Beef Hysteria Is Overblown

Food policy should not be driven by fears of 'killer beef.'

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The Senate is currently considering a bill to beef up (pun intended) food safety regulations. They've been prompted to act by the rash of food scare headlines that have cropped up in the news over the past year or so, with "killer spinach" and "killer peanut butter" each getting a turn in the spotlight.

Ground beef has been an object of fear for much longer, from notorious deaths from e. coli at Jack in the Box in the 90's to mad cow disease hysteria. Now, Atlantic food blogger Marion Nestle declares in a stark headline that "ground beef is dangerous" and this danger is another reason for Congress to regulate the food supply.

When people die from contaminated food, it is a tragedy, and any company that distributes contaminated food should be justly punished. But take the issue in proportion. Getting sick from eating ground beef is very low on the list of fears that the average American worries about, and it should be. That's not to say Congress should do nothing about the issue, but let's not jump into crisis mode without considering the facts.

Look behind the headlines, and at the actual statistics.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2006 there were 27,634 people who fell victim to foodborne disease outbreaks, and 11 deaths from those outbreaks. Only a fraction of those outbreaks were caused by beef—in fact, it's not even in the top three causes, surpassed by poultry, leafy vegetables, and fruits and nuts.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were about 2½ million injuries from car accidents last year, and nearly 40,000 fatalities.

It is much, much safer to eat ground beef than to ride in a car. If ground beef is dangerous, almost anything is dangerous.