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Food Safety In the News

"How Making Food Safe Can Harm Wildlife and Water" on NPR

"Some Say Food Safety Regulations Threaten Wildlife" in Santa Cruz Sentinel

"H.R. 2749 Food Safety Enhancement Act" passes the House

"Politics of the Plate: Casting the Food Safety Net too Wide" in Gourmet Magazine (an article about H.R. 2749

"Crops, Ponds Destroyed in Quest for Food Safety" in SF Chronicle

"Consider all the Consequences" in California Farmer

"Of Mice and Men" in Terrain Magazine

"Safety Rules Burden Smaller Farmers" in the Des Moines Register

"Leaf and Let Die: The Price of Bagged Spinach" in Sierra Magazine

"EcoChef: Sidestep the Bag of Deception" published in 10 papers of the Bay Area News Group

"Safety in Biodiveristy" in the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture's (CUESA) weekly newsletter

"Sterile Farming adds Risk to Food Safety" in California Farmer

"Wildlife War Misguided: Speaker discusses food safety efforts gone astray" from Capital Press

"Food Safety Conference Sees Misguided Industrial Agriculture Strategies" on the Slow Food Blog 'Civil Eats'

"Politics of the Plate: Greens of Wrath" in Gourmet Magazine

"Wildlife in Middle of War on E. coli" from the Wall Street Journal

"Fields of Overkill" in High Country News

"California Farmers Use Guns, Poison to Protect Crops" in the LA Times

"Minimizing Wildlife" from the American Vegetable Grower

"How Safe is your Salad?" in the San Francisco Chronicle

"GAP Metrics a Work in Progress" in California Farmer

 

Current research and available science articulate the false nature of the conflict between food safety and environmental stewardship. Eliminating wildlife, which studies have shown do not pose a significant risk to food safety, and removing wildlife habitat that filters pathogens exacerbates the problem of E.coli 0157 entering the food supply.

 

From "Wildlife War Misguided: Speaker discusses food safety efforts gone astray" in Capital Press:

California and the nation are waging a misguided war on wildlife and family farms in the name of food safety, a Wild Farm Alliance official said in San Francisco last week.

"Although the origin of the E. coli that tainted those bags of spinach in 2006 was not determined, wildlife was quickly misconstrued as the most probable disease vector," said Jo Ann Baumgartner, director of Wild Farm Alliance. "It is the main focus of food safety auditor's concern to this day."

The Thursday, Nov. 20, conference was hosted by the Wild Farm Alliance.

She told a packed audience of concerned agriculture stakeholders and decision-makers that this decision to blame wildlife is not based primarily on facts but marketing strategy and the unreasonable stance that zero risk must be forged. Researchers in the field report that cattle are the major multiplier of the E. coli strain. Wildlife is being used as a scapegoat and took pressure off the processing aspect of the bagged salad industry.

Read the entire article

From "Wildlife in Middle of War on E. coli" by Jane Zhang, Wall Street Journal:

“Farmers around California's "Salad Bowl" have mounted an assault against wildlife to appease buyers who worry about E. coli in their leafy greens.

About one-third of the farmers surveyed in the region have cleared wide swaths of land surrounding their fields, leaving felled trees scattered along the Salinas River. Most used poisons, traps or fences to keep out frogs, squirrels and other wildlife last year, according to a Monterey County Resource Conservation District survey. Some farmers let ponds and irrigation reservoirs -- potentially prime wildlife habitat -- go dry.

Caught in the middle is wildlife whose complicity in the transmission of E. coli is unconfirmed. And farmers. While fresh-produce farmers are forced to absorb skyrocketing food-safety costs, not all of the measures are justified by science.

Despite his concerns about harming the environment, Bob Martin, general manager of Rio Farms in King City, says he cleared vegetation and trapped and poisoned mice and squirrels on the 6,000-acre farmland that mainly produces leafy greens. To keep birds out of his property, he has tried fences, propane-powered blast cannons, and hawk-like kites tied to poles. They work, but not for long. "It's all smoke and mirrors," he says, noting birds get used to the tricks.

To keep his fields as clean as possible, Mr. Martin says he spent more than $500,000 in 2007 on food-safety steps, including a full-time food-safety overseer. He is chagrined much of the extra costs have been imposed without scientific proof of their necessity.

"We are definitely between a rock and a hard spot," says Mr. Martin, who is participating in a study of the risks of E. coli from deer. "I understand the necessity of adhering to a basic set of standards." But he thinks many measures are "window dressing."

Some farmers said buyers have rejected acres of lettuce and other leafy greens after inspectors saw "potential frog habitat" or tadpoles in a nearby creek.

Some smaller farmers opt out. Dale Coke, owner of a 250-acre farm in San Juan Bautista, said he lost $50,000 to $60,000 in sales to Canadian buyers because he isn't participating in a California initiative that set standards for leafy-green growers. Had he signed up, he says, he would have to apply the rules to all of his crops, even though 70% aren't leafy greens.
Although Mr. Coke spends more than $10,000 a year on food safety, he sells to wholesalers who don't require him to follow the "draconian measures" imposed by processors, he says.”

Consumers need to communicate that "they will not tolerate environmental destruction for the production of their leafy greens," says Jo Ann Baumgartner, director of the Wild Farm Alliance. "These current practices in the Salinas Valley are bad for human health and bad for wildlife."

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From "Fields of overkill" by Li Mao Lovett, High Country News:

“In California's verdant Salinas Valley, the tangles of trees and shrubs that once bordered the fields of leafy greens are disappearing. Chain-link fences now barricade the Salinas River as it flows through the nation's salad bowl. In early April, a small lake that once sheltered migratory birds and insects beneficial to farmers had been reduced to a bulldozed pit; by the end of the month, it had disappeared completely. Like the vanishing trees and hedgerows, the pond was another victim of food-safety measures gone awry.

After an E. coli outbreak in 2006 was traced to tainted spinach, the leafy greens industry and big corporate buyers like McDonald's and Wal-Mart responded with an array of tough new standards for growing spinach and lettuce. Packaged produce has been the culprit in the majority of outbreaks linked to leafy greens; those who fell sick or died in the 2006 outbreak had eaten bagged spinach from a single processing plant in California owned by Natural Selection Foods. Still, native vegetation and waterways that provide habitat for deer, birds and other wildlife were suddenly seen as health threats by those high up on the corporate food chain.

Pushed by inspectors and buyers, leafy greens growers on California's Central Coast are sterilizing their fields, ripping out wildlife habitat and putting up fences. Often, the farmers' contracts and livelihoods are at stake. "Growers have been told to cut down trees on family farms that have been around for 50 years," says Kirk Schmidt, executive director of Central Coast Water Quality Preservation. And it's not just farmers and wildlife that are losing out - the excessive measures are changing farms in ways that could actually make our food supply less safe. "Buyers are taking advantage of food safety to get a competitive edge," says Joseph McIntyre, facilitator of the California Roundtable on Agriculture and the Environment. "They're putting pressure on growers toward practices that may not have food safety benefits, as well as (cause) unintended consequences."

Click here to read the entire piece.

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From "GAP Metrics a Work in Progress" by Len Richardson, California Farmer:

"Confusion still clouds strategies for dealing with food safety despite development of the Good Agricultural Practices Metrics following the 2006 E. coli outbreak...New evidence discounts the feral-pig hypothesis -- the most commonly encountered explanation of how the bacteria got onto the outbreak spinach field, " said Charles Benbrook, chief scientist at The Organic Center [which] issued a report, "Unfinished Business: Preventing E. coli O157 Outbreaks in Leafy Greens," in June. It explains why dust blowing from the cattle pasture just north of the spinach field was the likely contamination source.

"Ironically, the GAP Metrics bare-earth policies to discourage animals from venturing into leafy green fields might actually increase the risk of future outbreaks because bare ground around fields will increase dust," Benbrook said. He and other speakers questioned the GAP Metrics, which call for only a 50-foot buffer between a cattle pasture and leafy green field. In the Organic Center report, a buffer of one-half mile is called for, unless the grower and processor implement a "test and hold" comparable to the program now in place at Earthbound Farms.

Discussion also hit on the lack of science behind the GAP Metrics water testing, which focuses on generic E. coli, not the pathogenic strains. Testing conducted by farms and processors during 2007 shows a low rate of E. coli O157 in irrigation water, and a poor correlation between the presence of generic and pathogen E. coli."

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