Large Majority of Americans Want Stronger Food Safety Rules

WASHINGTON, DC—Among likely voters surveyed across the nation, about 9 in 10 support the federal government adopting additional food safety measures, and 64 percent believe that imported foods are often or sometimes unsafe, according to a new Pew-commissioned poll by the bipartisan team of Hart Research and Public Opinion Strategies.

This concern about imported foods reflected a significant jump compared to the 53 percent of voters who expressed such concerns in a 2008 survey by the same pollsters. FDA is equipped to inspect less than one percent of the imported products it regulates, according to agency data.

Overall, 58 percent of voters are worried about bacterial contamination of the food supply – with about a third of those saying they worry “a great deal.”

The survey shows American voters overwhelmingly believe the federal government should be responsible for protecting the food supply, and that the voters support numerous new measures to ensure it has the authority to do so. Those surveyed are also in support of more frequent inspections of many businesses that supply food and are increasingly skeptical of imported foods’ safety.

High-profile outbreaks of contaminated peanut butter, pistachios, peppers, spinach and other food in recent years have caused many people to become sick across the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 76 million food-related illnesses occur annually in the United States, with 325,000 people hospitalized and 5,000 dying as a result.

“For too long the Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for the safety of over 80 percent of the foods we eat, has not had adequate resources or power to protect Americans from dangers in the food supply,” said Erik Olson, director of Food and Consumer Product Safety for the Pew Health Group. “This poll reflects a strong belief among most Americans that a healthy, nutritious diet is important, and they want to have confidence that their food is safe.”

A total of 83 percent of likely voters interviewed believe the federal government should be responsible for ensuring that food is safe to eat, and an even higher percentage of those surveyed – 89 percent – support the federal government enacting new measures to better protect people from getting sick from eating contaminated food.

In addition, 91 percent of those polled favor annual or semi-annual government inspections of facilities that process food that is at a high risk of contamination, including 75 percent who strongly favor this. Government data shows that such facilities are inspected only once a decade on average, according to FDA statistics and a review by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Release of the survey comes as the Senate is expected to consider food safety legislation that gives FDA new oversight and enforcement powers. The House passed its version of the bill in July, which includes stronger inspection authorities for federal officials when investigating domestic facilities and imports.

The nationwide survey, conducted between June 29 and July 3, 2009, polled 1,005 likely voters. The survey has a +/- 3.1 percent margin of error. Full survey results are available at

Based on research and critical analysis, the Pew Health Group seeks to improve the health and well-being of all Americans. It advocates policies that reduce potentially dangerous health risks in consumer, medical and food products and services. The Pew Charitable Trusts ( is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today's most challenging problems. Pew applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life. We partner with a diverse range of donors, public and private organizations and concerned citizens who share our commitment to fact-based solutions and goal-driven investments to improve society. 

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