Food Safety….Again

People are sickening and dying in Europe from toxic E Coli poisoning acquired eating contaminated vegetables.  Aside from the financial disaster that this is for the Northern German (and perhaps all European) farmers there is the more important issue of how these toxic strains of E Coli come into being.

A chain of industrial agriculture is the culprit.  It starts with feedlot-raised livestock that are fed antibiotics to increase their weight gain and fight the disease inherent in this unnatural way of raising cattle.   These animal’s guts become little antibiotic resistant E Coli factories.  If some of these E Coli happen to be one of the 5 or 6 deadly strains then not only to you have a bug that sickens people but one that is also difficult to treat.  These mass quantities of beef, pork, and chicken are then shipped all over the country spreading the wealth, so to speak.

In the United States the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t tell us right away when there is a poisoning outbreak in our food supply.  They wait until they know the source.   Nice of them not to have us worry our pretty little heads until they can “take care” of us.  While the thinking behind this attitude may seem logical…I.e. that false (or even true) allegations against a business can do it great damage or even put it out of business.   The Jack-in-the-Box outbreak of hamburger borne E Coli that sickened hundreds of children and almost put the fast food chain out of business is known in the food industry as their “9-11”.   It did some good things, however, by making the industry tighten it’s food handling standards (voluntarily by the way) and helping spawn the local food revolution.   However it also has led to treating the beef and other foods with chemicals and irradiation to kill any possible disease-causing organisms.  Makes you wonder if eating meat soaked in ammonia and zapped with radiation is really better for us.

But the true problem is the industrialization and nationalization of the food supply.   If some producer or processor has a problem it leads to national outbreaks, national recall, federal government involvement.  (See previous paragraph about how the FDA handles that).   Republicans in congress is not even listening to the food industry.  The food industry wants a strong FDA so that the good producers aren’t smeared with the same brush as someone not producing under safe conditions.     They, the Republicans, are instead cutting FDA budget by a large amount.   The food industry is even willing to be taxed to pay for these increased inspections, etc.   But say, “tax” to a Republican and you know the response you will get.  Even the hard-fought new food safety law is not funded at this time.

So who is the winner in all this?  It’s hard to say certainly not the majority of the American public.   I do know, however, that small organic family farms that sell directly to their customers on a human scale are likely to survive.  Because even if the family cow gets loose and wanders through the vegetable field the E Coli in its gut is not apt to be toxic or antibiotic resistant.

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