Saturday, March 14, 2009

Photo (Lexi Van de Walle): Fall 2008, "Depression Priced Tomatoes", Pikes Farm and Farm Stand, Sagaponack, NY 

Today, President Obama in his Saturday radio address announced the creation of a multi-agency task force to tackle the issues of food safety and nominated New York City's very own Dr. Margaret Hamburg aka Peggy  (former NYC Health Commissioner) to lead a new FOOD SAFETY WORKING GROUP and also to head up the Food and Drug Administration. 

Great news for consumers and eaters! I know I was afraid to eat a tomato last summer during the tomato recall -- unless, of course,  I bought it from a local farmer.   

But, potentially new food safety regulations are mixed news for small and mid-sized farmers and small scale food processors. IT WILL BE VERY IMPORTANT FOR ANY CHANGES IN LEGISLATION TO ADDRESS the food safety and inspection of small producers so that new regulations don't put an unsustainable cost burden on the local and small producers, farmers markets and CSAs for example.  According to Council on the Environment NYC, which runs a lot of the farmers markets in New York City, food safety is after all among the 10 Reasons to Buy Local Food .  

4. Local food is safe. There's a unique kind of assurance that comes from looking a farmer in the eye at farmers market or driving by the fields where your food comes from. Local farmers aren`t anonymous and they take their responsibility to the consumer seriously.
Obama's goal is to make our food supply safer and dramatically increase the funding for inspections of food processors (he notes that only 7,000 of the 150,000 food processors are inspected each year -- no wonder we've had a huge number food poisoning outbreaks and even deaths as a result of contaminated spinach, tomatoes, and processed peanut paste). The threats are real: pathogens such as E Coli and Salmonella, pesticides and antibiotics, human growth hormones and Mad Cow disease threaten food safety. So does bioterrorism. And, let's not forget genetically modified crops, irradiation -- I don't know about you but I don't feel we know yet whether these technologies are safe over the long term.  Many people don't think so. 

This would be the first major overhaul of food safety policy since Teddy Roosevelt signed the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906!!! Bloggers, and journalists are speculating that this may be the first step towards splitting the Food and Drug Administration into two parts, separating food and drug oversight and consolidating all food inspections into one agency. As Marion Nestle, food politics and food safety expert, notes often times fruits and vegetables are contaminated by animal waste so to have meat products inspected by one agency (the U.S. Department of Agriculture) and all other food inspected by another (the Food and Drug Administration) makes no sense. 

I'm OK with all this, but let's be sure to protect the small farmer, locavore and artisanal food producers, farmers markets and direct to consumer outlets such as farm stands and community supported agriculture and restaurant supported agriculture subscriptions. 

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