Saturday, July 19, 2008

rotten tomatoes

Today's St. Paul Pioneer Press contained two national wire stories about the current salmonella scare surrounding tomatoes and other fresh produce. The first, "Growers: Tomato probe flawed" (McClatchy), outlines the tension between farmers and the Food and Drug Administration. The second, "Fear of tainted food growing, poll indicates" (Associated Press), describes the results of a new Associated Press-Ipsos poll about changes in eating and buying habits during the past six months.

They're both worth reading, but I wanted to call attention to a few passages from the second article, which outlines the current level of fear permeating the marketplace:

While the poll found that three in four people remain confident about the overall safety of food, 46 percent said they were worried they might get sick from eating contaminated products. The same percentage said that because of safety warnings, they have avoided items they normally would have purchased.

Wow. If the poll is accurate, basically half of the country is worried about the safety of the food they eat. Sadly, if you look at in a different way, the least processed foods (fresh vegetables) are perhaps most at risk for contamination in our current industrial food production system, since you can't pasteurize, reconstitute, or preserve them as you can a box of dried macaroni and cheese or a mass-produced hot dog.

To put this in a broader context, the article also states that "In addition to the salmonella outbreak, this year has seen the largest ground beef recall in history, raising consumer concerns reflected in the poll." Do you remember the beef recall? It's easy to forget amidst the deluge of tainted products.

Furthermore, the article suggests that most people would support increased regulation of produce production and distribution, but that's only a small piece of the puzzle. The broader issue is the increasing distance, mechanization, and general over-complication of our mainstream agricultural system, all of which is driven by the race for lower food prices. For example, does someone in Duluth, Minnesota really need Peruvian asparagus in September?

(photo credit: [177] on Flickr Creative Commons)

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