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Economics and Food Safety Risk Assessment

Investigators
Roberts, Tanya
Institutions
USDA - Economic Research Service
Objective
To do benefit/cost analyses of food safety improvements that can be implemented anywhere along the food chain from farm to table, economists need to be able to identify the impact of possible interventions. Risk assessment models are one such tool. The goal of this program is to develop models that assist in identifying cost-effective intervention points in the food chain for reducing foodborne pathogens. Use of real world data in the models permits quantification of the probability of specific pathogens entering the food chain (and increasing, or decreasing) at various locations in response to changes in food system behavior. A centerpiece of the work is USDA's E. coli O157:H7 risk assessment for hamburgers. The risk assessment identifies high-risk pathways and the risky production and consumption behaviors. USDA has asked the NAS to review this model. USDA plans to use the model in policy making. The risk assessment will serve as a foundation for conducting benefit/cost analyses of control options to reduce illness associated with hamburger production and consumption. ERS has also developed other models of the impact of interventions to control foodborne pathogens. This risk assessment work compliments other ERS projects on economic incentives for innovation and the development of pathogen performance standards.
More information
NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: To evaluate food safety improvements along the food chain from farm to table, economists need to be able to identify the impact of possible interventions. Risk assessment models are one such tool. The goal of this program is to develop models that assist in identifying cost-effective intervention points in the food chain for reducing foodborne pathogens, using real world data.

APPROACH: A probabilistic risk assessment model, using scenarios, is developed to identify and quantify intervention points in the food chain for reducing foodborne pathogens. Actual industry data are used in the model to quantify the probability of specific pathogens entering the food chain from (and increasing, or decreasing) at various locations from farm-to-table in response to changes in food system behavior. Tanya Roberts (DSHE/FRED) led the slaughter house modeling group on USDA's team, E. coli O157:H7 risk assessment for hamburgers. Monte Carlo simulation is used to incorporate variability and uncertainty into the model of industry and consumer behavior. Event trees and how they are used to build risk assessment models of all possible outcomes is another focus. In some models, economics has been incorporated into the risk assessment to show cost/pathogen reduction tradeoffs for different intervention technologies.

PROGRESS: 2002/10 TO 2003/09
For the three food safety improvements analyzed in the model, improving hide removal can signficantly reduce the inital contamination of the beef carcass and is the most cost-effective. The steam pasteurization system for beef carcasses is the next most cost-effective. Only with a very high safety requirement, does the expensive,irradiation system become cost-effective. Whether or not these regulations provide the proper level of economic incentives to compensate for possible market failures has been little researched. One ERS study suggests the public health protection benefits of increased control for meat and poultry are significantly greater than the costs of HACCP to the meat and poultry industry (Crutchfield et al., 1997). Work on environmentally sound technologies found that the adoption of technologies to meet compliance obligations was fundamentally different from the adoption of production-enhancing technologies. If the private and public incentives are insufficient, less than the socially optimal level of food safety will be produced. Firms will under-invest in R&D to develop new technologies and new management systems to control foodborne pathogens and be slow to adopt new technologies and management systems developed by others, despite their effectiveness in pathogen reduction. To support both the objectives of the firm and public health goals, analytical methods are needed that merge risk assessment and economic analysis so that rational decisions can be made about food safety technological development and adoption.

IMPACT: 2002/10 TO 2003/09
The research makes an important and unique contribution to understanding how economics and risk assessment can be joined to improve food safety management.

Funding Source
Economic Research Service
Project number
DSHE6
Accession number
406185
Categories
Risk Assessment, Management, and Communication
Bacterial Pathogens
Commodities
Meat, Poultry, Game