Centralized Agribusiness Is Making Us Sick
Is There a Better Way?
The increasing centralization of food processing in this country has corresponded directly to a disturbing and growing trend… hundreds of Americans ingesting toxic food, scores dying of E. coli, salmonella, and other forms of food poising, and one major safety-related food recall after another.
In a moment, we’ll share a solution you can use to reduce your family’s exposure to unsafe foods and mass food recalls, while you also enjoy fresher and more nutrient-dense food. And in the process, you’ll become more self-reliant than the average American.
Top FDA bureaucrat admits:
“I’m not telling you it is a system
that is optimal for consumers…”
First though, let me explain the problem and why you should care. From July 2009 to September 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recalled 85 food products. In just a 15-month period, these foods caused 1,850 documented sicknesses around the country, plus untold additional cases that went unreported.
This year hasn’t been much better. The FDA has issued at least 74 more food recalls due to disease-causing bacteria such as listeria monocytogenes, salmonella, e. coli, and even staphylococcus aureus. That’s more than one recall per week.
For example, this August the USDA recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey contaminated with salmonella. If portioned out into quarter-pound burgers, that’s enough tainted meat to potentially sicken 144 million Americans – nearly half of the US population! Yet this was only the third-largest meat recall in history.
What’s also disturbing is, according to a Fox News report, “Federal officials said they turned up a dangerous form of salmonella at a Cargill Inc. turkey plant last year, and then four times this year at stores selling the Cargill turkey, but didn’t move for a recall until an outbreak killed one person and sickened 77 others.”
This dangerous form of salmonella was the Heidelberg strain that is resistant to antibiotics. “We have constraints when it comes to salmonella,” said Elisabeth Hagen, the USDA’s top food-safety official, in an interview with Fox News. Salmonella isn’t considered a dangerous adulterant in meat until it is directly tied to an illness or death…
Amazingly, some so-called experts want you to believe that the heightened number of recalls is actually a good thing. “It’s not just that there’s more recalls, it’s that we’re getting a whole lot better at finding them,” argues food-safety expert and Rutgers University food-science professor Don Schaffner. This is cold comfort because it means our food supply may not be as safe as we expect it to be. Check out these statements from officials and scientists who are in the know:
“I’m not telling you it is a system that is optimal for consumers. What we are trying to do is make the response part faster,” says Food and Drug Administration food-safety official Dr. David Acheson.
“There is an unacceptably high level of food contamination in the food supply,” says Sandra Eskin, director of the Food Safety Campaign with the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Part of the problem is how we produce food today. Over the last couple of decades, the dynamics of food processing and distribution have changed significantly. There are a few very large companies producing large amounts of food and sending it all over the country. So, if one batch is contaminated, it potentially infects the entire production line.
“It comes down to concentration and centralization of the food supply,” says author and New York University professor of food studies, “If something goes wrong at a place that produces hundreds of thousands of eggs, they all have to be recalled. If it’s just a local farmer, it’s just a few dozen.”
The dairy industry is a particularly stark example of concentration and centralization. Between 1970 and 2006, the number of farms with dairy cows fell steadily and sharply, from 648,000 in 1970 to 75,000 in 2006, or 88 percent. Yet that vastly reduced number of dairy farms actually produce more milk.
In 1970, the average dairy herd had 19 cows. Today many farms have thousands of cows… some as many as 15,000. The trend is ongoing… farms with fewer than 200 cows continue to decline sharply.
If centralization is part of the problem, a decentralized and more open, freer community-based system could be part of the solution.
Today’s savviest consumers are pursuing an effective alternative to large-scale agribusiness… Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
“The lesson for everyone is: Know your supplier,” says Douglas Powell, scientific director of the International Food Safety Network at Kansas State University.
Paraphrasing the USDA: Community Supported Agriculture means a community of individuals pledge mutual support for a farm, sharing in both the food production and the risks (i.e. poor harvests). By selling direct to community members, farmers receive working capital in advance, get better prices, and aren’t over-burdened with marketing.
Each CSA is unique and run with an entrepreneurial spirit. For instance:
Karl’s Farm in Maryland sells “shares” for different growing seasons. Their Fall 2011 shares cover 8 consecutive weeks and entitle a shareholder to the weekly harvests. A full share is enough produce to feed a family of four for a week. You can pick up your share at the farm, or for an added fee they will deliver it to your home. Once the shares are sold out, membership for that season is closed.
Abundant Harvest Organics on the other hand is located about 3 hours north of Los Angeles and operates a farm-share delivery service. Their operation brings together a group of organic family farms from California’s Central Valley (agricultural region), and the community pays for a monthly membership program, which can be cancelled at any time.
On a weekly basis, they deliver produce to specific neighborhood drop locations where each family then picks up their produce. A large box has enough fruits and vegetables to feed a family of four for a week, just $36.80.
Other CSAs form co-op stores where they deliver their produce and members purchase.
Some CSAs specialize in one food product such as dairy or nuts. If you live near the water, or don’t mind the drive, you can get crab, lobster, shrimp, cod, pollock, haddock, or you name it from a Community Supported Fishery. They work much like the CSAs above, but instead of a bag of tomatoes, you get a bag of shrimp.
One tip: Look for a nearby CSA that works with a number of family farms. This way you have a variety of products from which to choose. For instance, Abundant Harvest Organics’ basic box contains seasonal fruit and vegetables. However, you can select “add-ons” such as organic almonds, grass-fed beef, open-range chicken and eggs, gourmet cheese, honey, and more.
To find a local CSA, search online. Use the term CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture/Fishery/Dairy/etc. And include the name of your town. Or, you can look over these related web portals (feel free to ignore the left-wing gobbledygook some of these sites spew!):
By taking advantage of your local CSA, you get to “know your supplier” as well as better protect your family from being affected by potential illness from centralized food production, save time and money, enjoy fresher, better-tasting, and more nutrient-dense food.
If you aren’t able to find a local CSA in your area, farmers markets, farm stands, and local butchers all offer opportunities to purchase fresh, less processed foods and keep the dollars in your community. It’s all part of becoming as self-reliant as possible in these rapidly changing times.