I ATTEND a lot of food industry events, and almost every person who is asked to speak on the safety of the U.S. food supply chain starts with the same trite, baseball-hot dogs-and-apple pie comment.
"In America, we should be proud that we have the safest and most abundant food supply in the world."
The knee-jerk reaction of the audience is always a rousing salute that's usually reserved for the American flag or applause that teenagers usually reserve for Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus.
I've always wanted proof. "Safest and most abundant" is a very tall claim that I just didn't think was supported by anecdotal evidence. Still, I couldn't find any data that either supported or denied it. I heard the phrase again and again, year after year, and cringed every time.
James Andrews, writing in Food Safety News, finally pointed me toward the truth. We do not have the safest and most abundant food supply in the world. We're not even in the top 10. In fact, we just missed the top 20.
Andrews wrote, "Despite affordable prices and high food quality, the United States tied with Japan for 21st place in a ranking of the world's food systems, according to the international advocacy confederation Oxfam."
The report goes beyond "safety" and "abundance." It judged the food systems of 125 countries "according to four major metrics: food quality, abundance of food, affordability of food and eating habits of citizens."
The U.S. picked up some demerits based on our poor eating habits, which contribute to what is one of the world's highest diabetes and obesity rates. We follow 20 European countries and Australia.
Leading the way was the Netherlands, followed by France and Switzerland in a tie for second.
We tied with Australia for fourth place in terms of food quality, behind Iceland, Switzerland and the Netherlands. We were number one for affordability of food, but only five nations scored worse in the "unhealthy eating" category (that diabetes and obesity bugaboo again). We can look down our chubby little noses at Saudi Arabia, Fiji, Jordan, Mexico and Kuwait.
So, now that we know we're an also-ran in this safe and abundant food category, can we do what we do best? That is, let's get our competitive juices flowing and earn that title.
Tightening our food safety regulations by giving the Food & Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture the funding and the legal permission to do their jobs would be a nice first step.
Realizing that we can't consume 10 times the calories we need every day without gradually going from fat to obese to morbidly obese would be another important step.
For the record, here is a list of the top 25:
2. France and Switzerland (two-way tie).
4. Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Belgium (four-way tie).
8. Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Luxembourg and Australia (five-way tie).
13. Spain, Greece, Germany, U.K., Norway, Finland, Cyprus and Iceland (eight-way tie).
21. U.S. and Japan (two-way tie).
23. New Zealand and Israel (two-way tie).
25. Canada, Brazil, Estonia, Slovakia and Hungary (five-way tie).
The complete ranking of 125 countries as well as Oxfam's summary report can be found online at www.foodsafetynews.com.
*Chuck Jolley is president of Jolley & Associates, a marketing and public relations firm that concentrates on the food industry.