Publications

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  • Bacterial Foodborne Disease: Medical Costs and Productivity Losses

    AER-741, August 01, 1996

    Microbial pathogens in food cause an estimated 6.5-33 million cases of human illness and up to 9,000 deaths in the United States each year. Over 40 different foodborne microbial pathogens, including fungi, viruses, parasites, and bacteria, are believed to cause human illnesses. For six bacterial pathogens, the costs of human illness are estimated to be $9.3-$12.9 billion annually. Of these costs, $2.9-$6.7 billion are attributed to foodborne bacteria. These estimates were developed to provide analytical support for USDA's Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) systems rule for meat and poultry. (Note that the parasite Toxoplasma gondii is not included in this report.) To estimate medical costs and productivity losses, ERS uses four severity categories for acute illnesses: those who did not visit a physician, visited a physician, were hospitalized, or died prematurely. The lifetime consequences of chronic disease are included in the cost estimates for E. coli O157:H7 and fetal listeriosis.

  • Economics of Food Labeling

    AER-793, January 25, 2001

    Federal intervention in food labeling is often proposed with the aim of achieving a social goal such as improving human health and safety, mitigating environmental hazards, averting international trade disputes, or supporting domestic agricultural and food manufacturing industries. Economic theory suggests, however, that mandatory food-labeling requirements are best suited to alleviating problems of asymmetric information and are rarely effective in redressing environmental or other spillovers associated with food production and consumption. Theory also suggests that the appropriate role for government in labeling depends on the type of information involved and the level and distribution of the costs and benefits of providing that information. This report traces the economic theory behind food labeling and presents three case studies in which the government has intervened in labeling and two examples in which government intervention has been proposed.

  • Product Liability and Microbial Foodborne Illness

    AER-799, April 01, 2001

    This report examines how product liability law treats personal injuries attributed to microbially contaminated foods. The risk of lawsuits stemming from microbial foodborne illness and the resulting court-awarded compensation may create economic incentives for firms to produce safer food. It is not known how many consumers seek compensation for damages from contaminated foods because information about complaints and legal claims involving foodborne illness is not readily accessible, especially for cases that are settled out of court. Reviewing the outcomes of 175 jury trials involving foodborne pathogens, the analysis identifies several factors that influence trial outcomes, while noting that the awards won by plaintiffs tend to be modest.

  • Managing for Safer Food: The Economics of Sanitation and Process Controls in Meat and Poultry Plants

    AER-817, April 08, 2003

    This study evaluates the costs of sanitation and process control in producing meat and poultry. The study shows that the costs of sanitation and process control as required by the Pathogen Reduction/Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (PR/HACCP) rule of 1996 raised wholesale meat and poultry prices by about 1 percent.

  • International Trade and Food Safety: Economic Theory and Case Studies

    AER-828, November 07, 2003

    This report examines the conceptual relationships between food safety and international trade and analyzes empirical examples from the meat and poultry, produce, food and animal feed crop, and seafood sectors.

  • Country-of-Origin Labeling: Theory and Observation

    WRS-0402, January 23, 2004

    This report examines the economic rationale behind the various claims about the effects of mandatory country-of-origin labeling, thereby identifying the most likely outcomes. Profits motivate firms to innovate and introduce thousands of new food products each year to satisfy consumers' demand. Yet, food suppliers have generally not emphasized, advertised, or labeled food with U.S. country of origin. The infrequency of "Made in USA" labels on food suggests suppliers do not believe domestic origin is an attribute that can attract much consumer interest. We find little evidence that suppliers would have difficulty supplying such labels if there were sufficient consumer interest.

  • Food Safety and International Trade: Theoretical Issues

    AIB-789-2, February 28, 2004

    This research brief examines the conceptual relationships between food safety and international trade.

  • Seafood Safety and Trade

    AIB-789-7, February 28, 2004

    This research summarizes three case studies of how trade in seafood products can be affected by food safety concerns.

  • Response to U.S. Foodborne Illness Outbreaks Associated with Imported Produce

    AIB-789-5, February 28, 2004

    This report examines how U.S. and other nations responded to foodborne illness outbreaks traced to internationally-traded food.

  • Mycotoxin Regulations: Implications for International Agricultural Trade

    AIB-789-6, February 28, 2004

    This research brief discusses regulations intended to control mycotoxins in the food supply, and examines their implications for international trade.

  • Food Safety and International Trade

    AIB-789-1, February 28, 2004

    This research brief presents some of the highlights of the ERS report, "International Trade and Food Safety: Economic Theory and Case Studies."

  • Resolving Trade Disputes Arising from Trends in Food Safety Regulation: The Role of the Multilateral Governance Framework

    AIB-789-3, February 28, 2004

    This research brief examines the conceptual relationships between food safety and international trade, and discusses ways to resolve safety-related trade disputes.

  • Food Safety Issues for Meat/Poultry Products and International Trade

    AIB-789-4, February 28, 2004

    This research summarizes three case studies of how trade in meat and poultry products can be affected by food safety concerns.

  • Traceability in the U.S. Food Supply: Economic Theory and Industry Studies

    AER-830, March 18, 2004

    This investigation into the traceability baseline in the United States finds that private sector food firms have developed a substantial capacity to trace.

  • Mandatory Country-of-Origin Labeling--Will It Benefit Consumers?

    Amber Waves, April 01, 2004

    Proponents of country-of-origin food labels claim such labels would benefit consumers who are concerned about food safety, who wish to support U.S. producers, or who believe that U.S. foods are of higher quality than imports. Others argue that mandatory labeling will merely raise costs and bring few benefits.

  • Food Traceability: One Ingredient in a Safe and Efficient Food Supply

    Amber Waves, April 01, 2004

    Food traceability is not only newsworthy, but investment worthy, too. Food producers have voluntarily built traceability systems to track the grain in a cereal box to the farm and the apples in a vat of apple juice to the orchard. However, traceability is just one element of any supply-management or quality/safety control system.

  • Meat and Poultry Plants' Food Safety Investments: Survey Findings

    TB-1911, May 14, 2004

    A national survey of meat slaughter and processing plants indicates that market forces, in conjunction with regulation, have worked to promote the use of more sophisticated food safety technologies.

  • Current Issues in Economics of Food Markets

    AIB-747, August 13, 2004

    These reports synthesize economic analyses of the complex relationships in food markets of interest to officials responsible for public policy, decisionmakers in the industry, and researchers. Topics addressed so far include the economizing practices of low-income households in making food purchases, the increasing vertical coordination and integration of the industry, the link between consolidation of retailers and orange juice prices, the effects of a higher minimum wage on food prices, how taxes affect food markets, and lessons learned from the use of rbST in dairy production.

  • Mandatory Country-of-Origin Labeling: Will It Benefit Consumers?

    Amber Waves, May 01, 2007

    The U.S. Congress passed legislation mandating country-of-origin labeling (COOL) in 2004, but has now delayed its implementation by two years. COOL has been extremely controversial, with some claiming that consumers will benefit, and other claiming that the costs would be too high. Research on the costs and benefits of COOL is so far inconclusive. It is not clear that consumers would be willing to pay the higher food prices that would result from mandatory labeling.

  • U.S. Consumers Had Short-Term Response to First BSE Announcements

    Amber Waves, September 03, 2007

    ERS researchers compared household-level retail food purchases of three types of beef products before and after the 2003 U.S. government announcements of finding two North American cows infected with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) to see if consumers reduced their purchases of those products, and, if so, for how long. Food purchase data reveal that the response of U.S. consumers to those announcements was limited and dissipated within 2 weeks.