Then check out this article on what’s going on in California’s major agricultural regions.
In a quest to provide the “safest” mass-produced products, major distributors are forcing the farmers who wish to sell to them (and who may be under contract to do so) to bulldoze ponds, poison wildlife, and rip out riparian buffer zones in an attempt to make their fields more “sterile.”
Dick Peixoto planted hedges of fennel and flowering cilantro around his organic vegetable fields in the Pajaro Valley near Watsonville to harbor beneficial insects, an alternative to pesticides.
He has since ripped out such plants in the name of food safety, because his big customers demand sterile buffers around his crops. No vegetation. No water. No wildlife of any kind.[Lochhead, Carolyn. “Crops, ponds destroyed in quest for food safety.” San Francisco Chronicle. 13 July 2009.]
These draconian measures are a preemptive means of complying with the forthcoming Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 (H.R. 2749–pdf alert!) and a scramble to make the industrial food system seem safer.
But the measures being taken are not going to make it safer, and the measures being taken are not based on sound science. In fact, the heavy-handed measures being demanded by large processors in many cases can only be extrapolated based on what is happening in the landscape, because they are a secret–“proprietary information.”
Large retailers did not respond to requests for comment. Food trade groups in Washington suggested calling other trade groups, which didn’t comment.
Chiquita/Fresh Express, a large Salinas produce handler, told the advocacy group Food and Water Watch that the company has “developed extensive additional guidelines for the procurement of leafy greens and other produce, but we consider such guidelines to be our confidential and proprietary information.”
The growers are being told to comply if they want to sell, but the public is not allowed to know just what is being done to the land and their food in the name of safety.
“It’s all based on panic and fear, and the science is not there,” said Dr. Andy Gordus, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Game.
Preliminary results released in April from a two-year study by the state wildlife agency, UC Davis and the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that less than one-half of 1 percent of 866 wild animals tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 in Central California.
Frogs are unrelated to E. coli, but their remains in bags of mechanically harvested greens are unsightly, Gordus said, so “the industry has been using food safety as a premise to eliminate frogs.”
Farmers are told that ponds used to recycle irrigation water are unsafe. So they bulldoze the ponds and pump more groundwater, opening more of the aquifer to saltwater intrusion, said Jill Wilson, an environmental scientist at the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board in San Luis Obispo.
Wilson said demands for 450-foot dirt buffers remove the agency’s chief means of preventing pollution from entering streams and rivers. Jovita Pajarillo, associate director of the water division in the San Francisco office of the Environmental Protection Agency, said removal of vegetative buffers threatens Arroyo Seco, one of the last remaining stretches of habitat for steelhead trout.
This is what the industrial food system has wrought, and this is what the Food Safety Enhancement Act will make common practice.
Not only that, but the food safety legislation doesn’t differentiate between these massive-scale growers and processors, and someone like me: growing on a small, well-managed acre and selling direct to customers–many of whom I know by name.
I don’t need environmentally destructive field management, growing, and packing guidelines to keep from poisoning my neighbors. I need to care–and I do.
Seattle trial lawyer Bill Marler, who represented many of the plaintiffs in the 2006 E. coli outbreak in spinach, said, “If we want to have bagged spinach and lettuce available 24/7, 12 months of the year, it comes with costs.”
Still, he said, the industry rules won’t stop lawsuits or eliminate the risk of processed greens cut in fields, mingled in large baths, put in bags that must be chilled from packing plant to kitchen, and shipped thousands of miles away.
“In 16 years of handling nearly every major food-borne illness outbreak in America, I can tell you I’ve never had a case where it’s been linked to a farmers’ market,” Marler said.
“Could it happen? Absolutely. But the big problem has been the mass-produced product. What you’re seeing is this rub between trying to make it as clean as possible so they don’t poison anybody, but still not wanting to come to the reality that it may be the industrialized process that’s making it all so risky.”
If you care about the environment and truly safe and sustainable food production, please take a moment to call or write your legislators on this dangerous piece of legislation working its way through the House of Representatives.