The Industrial Agricultural Complex

Michael Pollan had an article in the New York Times that spells out many reasons for locally grown food. Writing about the recent E. coli contamination he had this to say…

The Vegetable-Industrial Complex – New York Times: “…if industrial farming gave us this bug, it is industrial eating that has spread it far and wide. We don’’t yet know exactly what happened in the case of the spinach washed and packed by Natural Selection Foods, whether it was contaminated in the field or in the processing plant or if perhaps the sealed bags made a trivial contamination worse. But we do know that a great deal of spinach from a great many fields gets mixed together in the water at that plant, giving microbes from a single field an opportunity to contaminate a vast amount of food. The plant in question washes 26 million servings of salad every week. In effect, we’re washing the whole nation’s salad in one big sink.

It’s conceivable the same problem could occur in your own kitchen sink or on a single farm. Food poisoning has always been with us, but not until we started processing all our food in such a small number of ‘kitchens’ did the potential for nationwide outbreaks exist.”

He also points out what is becoming increasingly clear to me…We shouldn’t be worrying so much about planes flying into buildings, we need to worry about one person in the processing plant with a bag of contaminant in their pocket…When the E. coli outbreak first started and the papers started reporting the outrageous statistics on the production of salad greens in one California valley I was already seeing the writing on the wall. Talk about having all of your eggs in one basket. When I commented on my fears to my wife she was unused to hearing me express such pessimistic thoughts about terrorism.

When Tommy Thompson retired from the Department of Health and Human Services in 2004, he said something chilling at his farewell news conference: “For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do.”” The reason it is so easy to do was laid out in a 2003 G.A.O. report to Congress on bioterrorism. ““The high concentration of our livestock industry and the centralized nature of our food – processing industry-make them – vulnerable to terrorist attack.” Today 80 percent of America’’s beef is slaughtered by four companies, 75 percent of the precut salads are processed by two and 30 percent of the milk by just one company. Keeping local food economies healthy — and at the moment they are thriving — is a matter not of sentiment but of critical importance to the national security and the public health, as well as to reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy.

I can already envision the government answer to this and it isn’t mine…More security on fewer places…A green zone, so to speak, where food is processed. Outsourced, of course, to KBR…

If nothing else, these outbreaks and their massive and overnight spread around the country should be a wake up call to the American consumer. Locally grown food is the best protection to any number of disasters – natural or manmade.