Food System Raises Risk of Widespread Contamination
December 29, 2009
An increasing number of outbreaks of food-borne illness have given many the impression that the U.S. food supply is spiraling out of control. And in fact, it could be a lot safer -- there are real reasons to worry.
A centralized food system can allow a single batch of contaminated food to hurt people across the country. A single jalapeño pepper patch in Mexico may have sickened 1,400 people more than 40 states over a four-month period in 2008.
Salmonella-carrying peanuts affected people around the country and may have contaminated 3,900 separate products.
Concentrated production techniques also help propagate pathogens. The crowded chicken houses, pig farms and cattle feedlots that produce most of the meat eaten in America are potential breeding grounds for dangerous bacteria and viruses.
Even looking for the 'USDA Organic' label may not be enough to protect you from foods manufactured with questionable practices, pesticides and hormones. Promiseland, a multimillion dollar operation with facilities in Missouri and Nebraska, has been accused of multiple improprieties in formal legal complaints, including not feeding organic grain to cattle, selling fraudulent organic feed and "laundering" conventional cattle as organic.
Many people think that because a product bears the USDA organic label, it came from a sunny farm where the animals are all happy and well cared for. But Promiseland sold thousands of dairy cows to giant factory dairy farms owned by Dean Foods (Horizon Organic), Natural Prairie Dairy and Aurora Dairy.
Although the USDA sets the standards for what makes a farm organic or not, they are very rarely involved in the hands on parts of the certification process. More often, independent domestic accredited certifying agents are brought in by the companies to make sure that they are satisfying all the necessary requirements.
Consumers must take an active interest in the companies that make their food, and choose small, local producers whenever possible. Otherwise, there's no telling where your food may have been.
To get an idea of just how far your produce has traveled, check out this amazing interactive picture.
It shows in clear form just why buying your fruits and vegetables from local farmers not only supports local agriculture, but saves countless pounds of carbon emissions by cutting down the travel distance.