The foodie/organic/raw/local/small farmer blogs are alive with conspiracy theories (real or imagined) about the reasons behind the moves in Congress to finally try to make our food supply safer. Some see the evil hand of Monsanto, Cargill, etc., and their minions in Congress, as trying to crush the organic, small farmer by enacting “one size fits all” rules. Others see that the administration and Congress have finally noticed that 76,000,000 of our citizens are sickened by food each year in the US and may actually try and do something. True? False? Perhaps a little of both?
Last week I had a long chat with the Dean of Agriculture reporters, Phil Brasher, about the risks to “small-scale farmers and organic growers [who] say those standards can force them to choose between selling to supermarkets and schools or else following practices that degrade the soil and require more synthetic chemical … [that] … farmers worry that food-safety bills being considered in Congress could make matters more difficult.” As I said:
Bill Marler, a Seattle lawyer who represents victims of food poisonings, said safety standards shouldn’t be weaker for small farms. Should kids get sick at school from contamination linked to a small farm, parents will ask why the farm didn’t meet the standards required of bigger suppliers, he said. "We all need to figure out a way, whether you’re a big player or a small player, that you’re treated fairly, that you’re inspected fairly and the product you’re producing, whether big or small, has the least chance of poisoning some kids," Marler said. "That’s not easy."
Not easy, but not impossible. It is time to actually engage in a reasoned discussion instead of a shouting match across the blogs. Food safety should be important whether you’re a small or large producer of food for supermarkets or schools. The discussion should not be that food safety regulations should be less concerned about producing safe food if you’re a small farmer. Small or large, producers of food should be concerned about what we feed our neighbors and kids.
Perhaps we need to look hard at stopping the environmental degradation caused by mass-produced, factory farming – overuse of pesticides, antibiotics and energy – in the production food? Perhaps we need to look hard at localizing and regionalizing our food supply while at the same time making it safe and sustainable? Perhaps we need to focus at changing how we get our food while still making it safe for parents who buy the food at the local supermarket or kids that eat in our school lunch rooms?
So, ideas? I’ve been blogging about ideas for a long time. Heck, I’ve even applied for a job – "Hey, Mr. President, call me, I’ll work for peanuts."
So, engage the President, FSIS, FDA and Congress in a dialog about how to fix the problem of creating a safe, sustainable, fair food supply. For me, there can be no compromise on food safety – I have seen too much to give slack to Cargill or to a local farmer who supplies my grocery store or my kid’s school. Sure, some rules will need to be adjusted to reflect economic realities. However, regardless of your size, if you poison someone with your products it is wrong.
We – all of us – need to figure out what our goals are and move fairly and openly towards solving the problems plaguing our food supply. So, stop with the conspiracies and roll up your sleeves and dig in the garden of politics, you might actually find it fruitful.