Michael Pollan on the Spinach/E.Coli debacle

From the New York Time Magazine:

But there’s nothing sentimental about local food — indeed, the reasons to support local food economies could not be any more hardheaded or pragmatic. Our highly centralized food economy is a dangerously precarious system, vulnerable to accidental — and deliberate — contamination. This is something the government understands better than most of us eaters. When Tommy Thompson retired from the Department of Health and Human Services in 2004, he said something chilling at his farewell news conference: “For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do.ˮ The reason it is so easy to do was laid out in a 2003 G.A.O. report to Congress on bioterrorism. “The high concentration of our livestock industry and the centralized nature of our food-processing industryˮ make them “vulnerable to terrorist attack.ˮ Today 80 percent of America’s beef is slaughtered by four companies, 75 percent of the precut salads are processed by two and 30 percent of the milk by just one company. Keeping local food economies healthy — and at the moment they are thriving — is a matter not of sentiment but of critical importance to the national security and the public health, as well as to reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy.

I could easily have printed any paragraph out of the article, as there is much information there to be digested. The entire article is worth your read.

I choose the above paragraph as I wanted statistics to illustrate the lack of diversity and competition within the food industry. It is this lack of competition that puts the American Conusmers at risk, it is this lack of competition which was grossly on display with the Spinach /E Coli outbreak. It’s also only one variable of a list of about a half-dozen or so which allowed this to happen.

From the top of my head, here are other issues that allowed the E.Coli outbreak – Feedlot Cattle; Cattle CAFFA’s in close proximity to produce farms; questionable water source and water practices; no checks or balances to catch ‘dirty’ product; questionable washing processes;an underfunded FDA to adequately an follow up on outbreaks in a quick manner. Every one of these issues added to the outbreak. As the cliche goes “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”. Any argument that states that the aforemention issues helped rather than hindered the food safety issue surrounding the spinach outbreak better be ready to support such claims.

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As a side note, I do not think it’s hyperbole to equate Mr. Pollan with Rachel Carson, nor to compare The Ominvore’s Dillema with Silent Spring. I don’t make this statement lightly. If you haven’t read The Ominvore’s Dillema, you really should.

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