In the wake of the E. coli spinach scare, New York Times author Michael Pollan writes about the problems surrounding the industrialization of the food supply, and the reasons to support local food economies.
Currently, vegetable growers and packers are all but unregulated.
This is because, until recently, food safety on vegetable farms has not been particularly worrisome. But the industrialization and centralization of food processing has rendered it more vulnerable and endangered our health.
For example, the strain of E. coli responsible for the latest outbreak was unknown before 1982, and is believed to have evolved inside the guts of feedlot cattle; it cannot survive long in the different internal chemistry of cattle that graze on grass. The food supply sickens 76 million Americans every year.
Spinach from a great many fields gets mixed together in the water at the Natural Selection Foods plant, thought to be where the E. coli infection spread. The vast amount of plants mixed together gives a single microbial infection a chance to contaminate a large amount of food. The plant washes 26 million servings of salad each week.
One of the great advantages of a decentralized, locally-based food system is that when things go wrong, fewer people are affected and the problem can be easily tracked to its source.