The tension about our ability to be able to obtain real, untainted food is growing stronger every day. No doubt, all we need do is look in the news for a barrage of reports about the government attempting to put regulatory laws on the manufacturing, production, and sale of food. It’s certainly true that we’ve had an inordinate occurrence of foodborne illnesses and disease outbreaks related to the consumption of food.
The source of the problem
When you hear these stories, pay close attention to where the diseases and illnesses are believed to have originated – from commercially-produced sources which usually have a trail to a factory or industrial farm. If the source is reported to be from a so-called “organic” farm, you can bet that with a little research, you’ll probably find that there are questionable practices going on in the environment where the food is being raised or grown. In other words, the farm is probably not really an organic or sustainable farm.
The government is now stepping in to take charge of the problem.
On August 6, 2009, the FDA announced plans to create a tight system where authorities will come down heavily on violators and be more vigilant about investigations of foodborne illness. But how exactly are they planning to take care of the culprit of the problem – the methods in which industrial farming produces food – the reason behind all our food recalls and disease outbreaks in the first place? The focus mistakenly remains on how to take care of a problem after it occurs – and nothing at all on making the food system safe in the first place so that we reduce the overall number of outbreaks due to food safety issues.
The way to make our food system safe, of course, is to require that farmers use clean, sustainable methods in which to raise and grow food. This rule is currently not how food is produced in our food system. With emphasis placed on profit and numbers, the majority of food growers are unconcerned with the quality of their products. When quality suffers, so does the health of the public and the environment.
Should the limitations and regulations which will soon be required of large, corporate farming operations also be imposed upon the small, sustainable farmers who deliver to our local communities? Smaller farmers and food producers simply cannot compete with the massive farming outfits who have unlimited money and resources to keep up with complex, changing laws and regulations. Such changes could effectively wipe out our sustainable food choices and prevent us from having those options in the forseeable future. Read this article from Mother Earth News about Joel Salatin and the challenges he faces in his efforts to maintain his sustainable, 100-acre farm in Polyface, Virginia.
Consider how much of the food that we eat is altered in some way with chemicals or toxins that are harmful for us to consume. If you look at what has been happening, there are a prominent number of cases where people have become sick from eating processed, industrial food. Time and time again, we read news stories of individuals becoming ill from eating mainstream, processed products that are linked back to the industrial food industry. It is ironic that we are in the midst of such food safety issues, where our elected officials are voicing criticism about the legitimacy of sustainable-produced food, but don’t seem to comprehend what is going on in the industrial food sector. The industrial food sector, is in fact, where the food safety issues are most prevalent.
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) or industrial, factory farms are where the majority of the meat eaten in developed countries originates. These facilities place a high value on profits and very little consideration toward animal welfare and farm employee welfare, grossly mismanage the waste produced by the animals residing on the property, use genetically-modified, pesticide ridden feeds like grains, soy, and corn to promote quick growth of the animals, and employ widespread use of antibiotic and other medications on animals who become sick and infected due to the conditions where they live and the feed they consume. Cattle, in particular, are not designed to ingest grains, soy, or corn. Because this method of feed places a significant strain on the digestive tract of these animals (and subsequently their entire state of health), they become sick and farmers administer medications to combat illness.
Although the price tag of this type of meat is lower in the supermarket, the hidden costs of consuming such meat come later down the road. In addition, there is a significant burden on the part of the taxpayers – that’s us. Due to the pollution rates of factory farms which have a serious impact on public health, we experience an continual rise in overall medical costs.
Who is protected?
Government subsidies which are partially allocated to pay for large industrial farming outfits are funded by everyone who earns an income (our taxes). This structure causes loss of employment and drives wages down for the average person still employed. Large corporate takeovers eliminate smaller businesses. Industrial farming provides jobs, but wages are extremely low and working conditions for employees are abhorrent and dangerous.
Factory farms remain untouched by the regulatory measures that other industrial industries are required to follow. Lobbyists from special interest groups that are affiliated with these large farming entities have major influence over government agencies such as the FDA and USDA, and help make it possible for industrial farms to continue unethical business practices and continue to pay low wages, pollute the environment with hazardous waste, and use toxic chemicals to produce food that people consume.
Proposed regulations and fines that will be imposed upon the food production industry as a whole will be harmful to smaller, sustainable farming operations. The smaller farmer simply cannot compete with the corporate industrial farm’s ability to pay fees for operation costs required by the government in order to stay in business.
Making a difference
Although it takes extra effort to purchase locally-produced, sustainable meats and other food, the benefit to both human and environmental welfare as well as positive economic impact is measurable.
The fact is, real food doesn’t have to be for elitists. The notion that there are too many people on the planet for everyone to eat real, organic foods is based on nothing real or scientific; people mistakenly believe that if everyone switched over to real, whole foods and eliminated processed foods, some of us would starve. But if everyone supported their local, sustainable farmers and food growers, we would have enough food to feed our regional communities, plain and simple. It’s not impossible as everyone imagines.
The absolute best way to ensure a future for health, sustainable agriculture, and food is to purchase as much of this type of food as possible. The more you place your buying efforts towards healthy, organic, and local, sustainable food, the less money will go toward supporting the big, corporate, industrial farming machines that are propagating disease, illness, and environmental and economic downturn.
Another way to make a difference is to contact your elected officials and voice your opinions. Do some research and educate yourself on the issues. Get involved locally and abroad by writing letters, signing petitions, and supporting the efforts of those who seek to keep sustainable agriculture alive and well. Visit Take Part and learn more about these activities and become an activist!
Want to eat less? Lose weight? Enjoy better health? Save the environment? Buy local, sustainable foods and cook them yourself.
For more information on the latest news in food safety policy and laws, visit:
Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture by Andrew Kimbrell
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
This post is part of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Fridays Carnival.