Word for word: Eric Schlosser

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(Host) Writer Eric Schlosser gained national prominence with his bestselling book, “Fast Food Nation.” In it, he describes how the fast food industry has affected consumers, workers and food production. Recently, Eric Schlosser spoke at Champlain College in Burlington as part of the school’s Community Book Program. In his remarks, Schlosser argued that the growth of the fast food industry has led to a dangerous consolidation of the meat industry.

Today in “Word for Word,” we have an excerpt from his talk:

“What’s happened as technology has advanced and industrialization has advanced is not that the food has gotten safer, on the contrary food-borne illness is rising. And that’s counter-intuitive because for generations our food got safer as all kinds of sanitation was introduced.

“But now, there are all kinds of new threats to our food safety system. One of them is simply the scale of food production. If there was an outbreak of food-borne illness from a butcher shop 30-40 years ago, the only people who got sick were the people bought the meat from the butcher shop. So that might be people in one neighborhood. If the meat came from a small processing plant, that might mean there’d be an outbreak of food-borne illness in a little community. But as the meatpacking industry has driven those kinds of businesses out of business, we have gotten a huge, centralized, consolidated meat system.

“What that means is, 30 years ago there were hundred of meat processing plants and slaughter houses. Today, there are 13 slaughterhouses that produce the majority of beef that Americans eat. That means 13 buildings supplying the food – supplying the beef – for 300 million Americans. And that means that if there is a problem in one of those buildings, if there is contamination in one of the those buildings, the pathogen isn’t going to be spread down the block or in the neighborhood, it gets spread nationwide, it can be spread worldwide.

“These are conservative estimates: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that every year in the United States 76 million people are food poisoned. That’s about one out of every four people. So look around you – there are a lot of people in this room who are going to get a case of food poisoning this year.”

“Word for Word” is an occasional feature of VPR in which we broadcast extended comments by newsmakers. Today’s “Word for Word” was produced by Patti Daniels.

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