Saturday, July 25, 2009

Destroying the earth in the name of food safety

I recently read an article from the San Francisco Chronicle that completely alarmed me. Here is the beginning paragraphs of “Crops, pond destroyed in quest for food safety” written by Carolyn Lochhead:

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.

"I was driving by a field where a squirrel fed off the end of the field, and so 30 feet in we had to destroy the crop," he said. "On one field where a deer walked through, didn't eat anything, just walked through and you could see the tracks, we had to take out 30 feet on each side of the tracks and annihilate the crop."

In the verdant farmland surrounding Monterey Bay, a national marine sanctuary and one of the world's biological jewels, scorched-earth strategies are being imposed on hundreds of thousands of acres in the quest for an antiseptic field of greens. And the scheme is about to go national.

Invisible to a public that sees only the headlines of the latest food-safety scare - spinach, peppers and now cookie dough - ponds are being poisoned and bulldozed. Vegetation harboring pollinators and filtering storm runoff is being cleared. Fences and poison baits line wildlife corridors. Birds, frogs, mice and deer - and anything that shelters them - are caught in a raging battle in the Salinas Valley against E. coli O157:H7, a lethal, food-borne bacteria.

In pending legislation and in proposed federal regulations, the push for food safety butts up against the movement toward biologically diverse farming methods, while evidence suggests that industrial agriculture may be the bigger culprit.

To those who believe, as Mr. Peixoto does, that food should be free of chemical pesticides this strategy is a huge step backwards! And blaming E.coli for this ridiculous policy is ludicrous. Where was this problem 100 years ago? 200 years ago?

The bigger issue is how corporate agriculture has affected the safety of our food supply.

Seattle trial lawyer Bill Marler, who represented many of the plaintiffs in the 2006 E. coli outbreak in spinach, said:

"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.

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."

Overuse of antibiotics over the last 30 years has resulted in resistant strains of bacteria in humans. Couldn’t the same reasoning be applied to bacteria in animals? E.coli dwells mainly in the guts of cattle, which are routinely dosed with antibiotics. The first appearance of E.coli, in the early 1980’s, was in hamburger meat and then later found in certain produce – mainly leafy greens.

I see this as another inevitable result of industrial agriculture’s unhealthy, destructive processes.
In a previous post from March of this year sustainable agriculture was discussed. Also discussed was the return of family farms, and smaller scale, regional and local farming as the preferred source of our food supplies. The beneficial effects on population health, local economies, and the environment cannot be emphasized enough.

To find a local farm, or farmer's market in your area visit Local Harvest or contact your local county extension agent. Please support your local farmer!
Until next time...become the change you imagine.