Sunday, September 17, 2006

Spinachgate - Chapter 2...

Little ole e. coli may do more damage to the structure of farming than the health of the nation. The calls to raise enforcement standards will only increase if more cases are reported.
In looking hard at America's regulation of food handling from farms to dinner tables, the process generally gets high marks - and has been improved in recent years to reduce the risk of bioterrorism, experts say. But this latest incident, taken with earlier reports of E. coli contamination in greens, exposes a glaring weakness, they add: effective health standards and cleanliness enforcement on the farm itself.
While agrarian farmers may attribute this to industrial production methods, they too will be subject to any new farming oversight. Adding a layer of health-related regulations will hit smaller farms hardest - who has the time and expertise to even do the proper paperwork? Plus testing, certifying, inspecting, and documenting hardly fit the cherished lifestyle of agrarian fans.

The problem is unlike OSHA regs, for example, I doubt if any new food safety rules would have an exemption for small producers. Throw in the dubious over-hyping of agroterroism (my opinion) and we have forces blending to make food producers - especially horticultural and meats - jump through a whole mess of new hoops to ensure food safety. Enough to make NAIS look like a trivial exercise.

If agriculture is going to use fear to ensure a place in the political sun (and access to "security" pork-barrel funds) then it may be surprised by the cost of attention.

Our food is safe compared to other everyday risks. Moreover,the overwhelming origin (97%*) of food contamination is in the kitchen - either at home or a restaurant.

But because of our current "atmos-fear", it may be hard for voices of reason to prevent a stifling and expensive food safety regime from being established.

[* Danger Ahead - The risks you really face on life's highway by Larry Laudan]

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