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Likely voters, by a three-to-one margin, want the federal government to implement new safety standards for the growing, harvesting, processing, and distribution of fresh fruits and vegetables even if they cause produce costs to rise, a national survey commissioned by the Produce Safety Project (PSP), an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts at Georgetown University, has found.
Peter D. Hart Research Associates and Public Opinion Strategies conducted the survey of 1,002 likely 2008 general-election voters in late July, on the heels of a Salmonella saintpaul outbreak originally linked to fresh tomatoes, and then to Jalapeno and Serrano peppers.
Respondents to the survey voiced deep discontent with the current voluntary system, with 36 percent in favor "complete overhaul," and 39 percent pushing for "significant changes."
"Consumers don't want the produce section of their grocery stores to be casinos where they roll the dice on their family's health and safety," explained PSP director Jim O'Hara. "And they are shocked to learn that their tax dollars are being spent on an honor system. They want cops on the beat."
As in other recent polls, a considerable percentage of those surveyed - 75 percent - believe that produce safety is a serious problem, and a majority are concerned about bacterial contamination of produce.
Further, they think the government and the companies that wash and package produce are mainly responsible for produce safety, with each of these two sectors fingered by the same percentage of likely voters, 41 percent.
The poll found that most Americans (60 percent) rated the federal government's performance on produce safety as only fair or poor, and a significant majority (67 percent) want mandatory new safety regulations. Seventy-two percent of likely voters believe the federal government should create new requirements for produce safety even if those requirements would raise the cost of fresh produce by 3 percent to 5 percent.
"Having 76 million Americans get sick each year from foodborne illness and 5,000 die is unacceptable," noted O'Hara. "And having public health officials tell consumers to eat fresh fruits and vegetables to be healthy while the primary public health agency responsible for produce safety -- the Food and Drug Administration -- fails to put in place mandatory and enforceable safeguards, that is unacceptable as well."
For a complete summary of study findings, visit http://www.producesafetyproject.org.
The Produce Safety Project at Georgetown University seeks the implementation of mandatory and enforceable standards overseeing the safety of domestic and