Good article on the food safety issue from The Ethicurean Blog.
Down on the farm
Here’s a quick backgrounder: After the E. coli/spinach episode in 2006, big leafy greens producers in California (where the toxic spinach was grown) got together and drafted guidelines to reduce the risk of contamination on farms. These guidelines had some issues: they were based on the assumption that the E. coli had gotten on the spinach via wildlife in the fields, so they recommended that producers keep animals out with fencing, traps, or by removing vegetation on the farms where wildlife could hide. I don’t need to tell you that in the sustainable ag world, removing vegetation is not a popular approach. Less vegetation means less biodiversity, poorer water quality, fewer beneficial insects, and less happy native pollinators, as Marc reported. But the guidelines were fairly broad, allowing for some flexibility. They were also voluntary: Producers didn’t have to comply with them, although there was some pressure to.
Groups representing the interests of small and sustainable farms fought hard to make some reforms and to keep the guidelines voluntary, and they succeeded. But the thing is, buyers — companies like Dole or Chiquita’s Fresh Express, or even food service companies like Sysco that contract directly with producers — don’t want voluntary. From their point of view, if they “recommend” that their producers do certain things and they don’t do them, and then an outbreak happens, the company gets the blame…and the economic hit. It all comes down to liability, kids.