Braunwynn, the college freshman daughter, e-mailed last night (although in Canada she’s called a first-year university student).
"Watched this documentary, Food Inc., today. Seemed like one of those things you would get quoted on. Was a particularly emotional part about this mom whose 2-year-old son died from E. coli O157:H7 in a burger. Made me think of you."
I told Braunwynn that I knew the mom, and it was a tragic story. I also told her I wouldn’t get quoted in the movie because while it was compelling entertainment, it was scientific bullshit (or cowshit). “Most documentaries like that are powerful stories, but they are controlled by demagogues — and good demagogues never give up control of the microphone. Then things get messy or confusing, or at least not so simple. love dad”
Braunwynn’s timing was rather fortunate (that’s her on a food-safety mission in 2004 where we watched visitors to this Ontario cheese shop troddle out to the porta-potty with no handwashing facilities and stick their hands in cheese samplers). As the U.S. Senate votes on a food safety bill today – which will not reduce the number of people barfing every day from food — two of the Food Inc. demagogues, Eric Schlosser & Michael Pollan issued a statement supporting the Tester amendment, which would exempt small farmers and producers from the proposed food safety legislation.
"S 510 is the most important food safety legislation in a generation. The Tester amendment will make it even more effective, strengthening food safety rules while protecting small farmers and producers. We both think this is the right thing to do."
The most important thing any proposed food safety bill can do is reduce levels of illness and death.
But local food types worry the legislation’s safety requirements could force small farms out of business.
Some of the arguments can be found on grist.org and include:
“We are really talking about two parallel food production and distribution systems in this country. One is inherently dangerous due to its scale, methodology, and distribution model. The other depends on an intimate relationship between modest, local/regional owner-operators, who take pride in their work and direct connection with consumers. … I for one will gamble with my health, and the health of my family, by continuing to patronize local organic farmers. Weighing the risks, and the benefits of superior quality and nutrition, I think I am making a good investment.”
Mark Kastel, co-founder of The Cornucopia Institute and director its Organic Integrity Project
“Small, sustainable farmers spend their money and time on raising safe, quality food. We don’t have the resources, nor the economies of scale, that the large companies have that enable them to absorb additional regulatory burdens. … I look my customers in the face every time we sell them food. I know their children, and I have watched them grow up on the food we raise. I’ve talked with people who are fighting cancer or diabetes, or whose children have asthma — and for whom high quality food is a matter of survival. Several of the people who buy our food are among my closest friends.”
Judith McGeary, founder and executive director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance
I hear these assertions all the time, and wonder, why is there no mention of microbiology? Those dangerous bugs really don’t care about size or politics: local or global, conventional or organic, big or small, producers and others in the farm-to-fork food safety system either know about dangerous microorganisms and take steps to control them – or they don’t.
Braunwynn is a student at the University of Western Ontario in London (the Canadian one), the town that also hosts the annual Western Fair. I reminded her that in 1999, 159 people, primarily kids, got sick with E. coli O157:H7 from the sheep and goats at the petting zoo at the Western Fair. Those sheep and goats weren’t part of big ag and weren’t factory farmed. They are ruminants, and like cattle and deer, about 10 per cent carry E. coli O157:H7 at any one time.
But that doesn’t get mentioned in Food, Inc. Or legislation. Or amendments.