Out of all of the recalls I have to publish on a daily or weekly basis (foods, drugs, consumer products, autos…) the ones that troubles me most are food recalls.
Yes, recalled cribs concern me, especially when the company that made the cribs is no longer in business, or rather was sold and renamed, and nobody has any recourse but to throw the cribs away. And especially when infants continue to die because companies like Graco and Simplicity are too cheep to hire US labor, but export the making of these product to China, where the safety of our children are of seemingly no concern. But I digress… The reason food bothers me is because we cannot live without it. Children can survive without a fancy crib, but none of us can last very long without food. And there were 40 food recalls last month alone.
While many recalls are simply undeclared ingredients, such as allergens, food coloring or preservatives, a good portion of them are for nasty things like listeria, salmonella and e. Coli., including a recent recall of hundreds of thousands of pounds of beef.
Foodborne illnesses have always been an issue, and always will be, no matter how large or small the farm is, or who processed the food. But when I read books like Everything I Want to Do is Illegal, or read stories like this from farmers like Joel Salatin, or like this from a family in Ohio – it becomes even more clear to me that our food production and safety inspection system is broken.
When we let large agribusiness giants like Tyson and Cargill help write national legislation regarding food safety, not only are we ensuring that loopholes will be built-in to the laws for the largest of large companies, but we are also ensuring that the laws will be prohibitively and unnecessarily constrictive to small farmers.
Some argue that there is a conspiracy going on, either from large agribusiness, the government – or both – which would seek to consolidate our food production into the hands of a very few. Others, such as myself, simply think it is a problem inadvertently caused by our broken system in Washington, in which lobbyists have access to the collective and private ears of our government, while the average American is only heard superficially on the campaign trail.
Either way, consumers pay the ultimate price. With small farms forced out of business, we must buy our food from faceless corporations. And with leaders too dumb/busy/lazy/apathetic to write the very laws they seek to pass, we are forced to accept that food safety laws regulating large corporations be written by the very companies they seek to regulate.
Foodborne illnesses like salmonella, e. Coli and listeria rarely come from small farms in which animals have access to sunshine, fresh food and room to roam. They come from feedlots where cattle are crammed together like sardines standing in their own feces; where chickens live out their short, miserable little lives in cages not even large enough for them to turn around in… And they are compounded by the fact that these companies can sell food products, which are then processed and repackaged by another company, distributed by another company, and sold by another without us ever knowing where the original food came from. The government’s answer to this dilemma, you would think, could be as simple as requiring processed food makers to keep records of where their ingredients come from, and to make that information public. Instead, they’ve managed to come up with NAIS, a system that would have a small farmer fill out mountains of paperwork whenever an animal died in the field (imagine how difficult it is to report on this when you have a few hundred acres with hungry foxes/wolves/coyotes and sheep that are popping out lambs left and right during spring), or whenever one was eaten by the family, given to the neighbor…
The small American farmer is under attack from all sides. He is under attack from the government with asinine, bureaucratic mandates; he is under attack by big agribusiness, which receives subsidies from the government to keep their prices low, thus destroying the inner workings of a free market; and they are under attack by everyday Americans, most of whom are unable to afford, or refuse to pay the extra cost of fresh food grown by local farmers.
The bleak future of small-scale farmers in America is at the crux of my worries about food safety. Food recalls worry me more than other recalls because none of us can survive without food. And as we consolidate our food supply into the hands of a few agribusiness giants, these recalls will continue to happen at an ever-increasing rate. Yet, as much as it upsets me to post them, I will continue to do so – month after month, week after week, day after day…