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When Food Attacks: Food Safety and the Farm Bill

This week, a couple in Indiana and two children in Texas were hospitalized with serious outbreaks of botulism. In both cases, the sickness is most likely tied to tainted chili sauce produced by Castleberry’s Food Co. In both cases, the situation caused the families suffering and probably hefty hospital bills. Sadly, neither of these cases is surprising.

Whether it’s E. Coli in fast food hamburgers, Salmonella in heavily processed peanut butter, or Melamine-tainted pet-food, contamination, sickness, and food are all too-common bedfellows. The automation, speed, and lack of human supervision in the production and packaging of processed foods widen the potential for safety errors. Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that FDA (the governmental agency responsible for protecting public health) conducts 47% percent fewer food safety inspections than it did in 2003.

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This news is bad for anyone who consumes processed food products and is particularly frightening for pregnant women, children, and older individuals who tend to be more susceptible to food poisoning’s more detrimental and deleterious effects. One woman in Columbus Ohio reported to the Center for Science and Public Interest (CSPI) that her miscarriage was due to her consumption of Sara Lee cold cuts contaminated with listeria. “If I had known about the risks of consuming deli meat while I was pregnant, I might have been able to prevent my miscarriage,” she said. Perhaps she’s right, but it seems to me that the underlying problem is more complex, and that simply avoiding certain foods is not a sufficient solution.

When “good” companies like Earthbound Organics, and Robert’s American Gourmet turn up as culprits of tainted foods, it becomes far more difficult to blame behemoth companies like McDonald’s and Hormel and call it a day. So what are the options?

One a personal level, know the source of your food. Whenever possible, buy produce, eggs, honey, grain and milk from a local farmer through farmers’ markets or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) projects. If you find yourself with a few spare hours on a weeknight or weekend, cook dinner from fresh ingredients, make your own bread – or cheese (you can make delicious kosher mozzarella in 30 minutes as well as many other cheeses using this.

On a political level–learn more about the 2007 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill is the most important piece of food legislation currently up for debate, and the outcome will affects farmers and consumers alike. Recently, the Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Subcommittee, quietly inserted a provision into the Farm Bill that would wipe out state and local authority to protect food safety, the environment, and humane animal treatment. According to the Ag Observatory, “Section 123 would prevent states and localities from passing any laws prohibiting commercial use of USDA-inspected products.”

Would you like a side of lost rights with your tainted hamburger? Read more about the 2007 Farm Bill here.

–Leah Koenig