The infamous food safety bill that was passed in recent months has created quite a stir on a number of fronts. Most notably in how it protects large industrial farms while essentially weeding out any possibility of production and profitability by smaller, private farms. The majority of contamination scares which this new bill is supposed to prevent come from these larger producers. For example, over 400,000 lbs of contaminated meat from the second largest meat packer in the US was served to school children before a recall was ever issued. Incidents like this arent limited to the US though. As recently as January 2011, over 4,000 German farms were shut down after it was found that they had moved roughly 200,000 tons of animal feed contaminated with dioxins that eventually made its way into the food chain.
An international non-profit organization called GRAIN has recently published a report that examines multiple outbreaks of food related illnesses worldwide, and traces them back in most cases to larger factory farms. Alleging that the sheer size, concentration and power of the industrial food system make it the biggest source of problems with food safety, yet these are the establishments that are being protected by such governmental actions as US senate bill 510. Deeming that only these facilities can be capable of producing safe food is an outright lie. GRAINs report even presents the idea that bills like S.510 accomplish the exact opposite of what its intended to do. Smaller farms that may produce small amounts of unsafe food meant for local consumption will have significantly less impact than huge factory farms that are pumping out product for nationwide or even worldwide use.
Not only does the lack of real concern in food safety affect the well being of Americans, but also many other parts of the world. After the major outbreak of mad cow disease in 2003 for example, countries like Korea and Japan ended their import contracts for American and Canadian beef. As recently as March 2011, another cow with the deadly brain disease has been found in Canada. With such poor interest in production safety its no wonder that a recent study by the Translational Genomics Research Institute found that nearly half of all the meat and poultry in the US is contaminated. In most cases, its contaminated with potentially deadly and drug resistant bacteria.
The issue of food safety is a dual sided blade though. While there is a significant need for increased measures to ensure that what we have to eat is safe, some of those measures are beyond the reach of the smaller producers that had no previous incidents of disease. The economies of countries that export goods could potentially lose half or more of their income because of compliance rules that in turn result in as many or more complaints. While produce may now be screened more thoroughly, complaints of things like pesticide residues keep coming in at the same time.
Regulation is necessary, but when its aimed in the wrong direction it can only hurt us all. Movements like the food safety modernization act are great in theory, but target the smaller farms which produce on levels that are easier to manage than that of the mega farms which are supported and protected by the government. Major recalls that make the news and cause widespread disease are the result of factory farming, not the small scale operations that are being punished by this kind of legislation.
Translational Genomics Institute
Yahoo! News Canada