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Food Safety And Our Health


By Paul Rutkovsky

Our food growing and food delivery system is broken. A study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that 76 million illnesses result each year from food-borne diseases, in turn leading to an average of 5,200 deaths and 325,000 hospitalizations annually. Most of you are probably aware of one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history, affecting more than 3,000 products. This happened in January in one of Peanut Corporation of America’s (PCA) processing plants, and the perpetrator was not too many miles north of Tallahassee in Blakely, Georgia. The recall was advertised as voluntary by Peanut Corporation of America headquarters in Lynchburg, Virginia. However, the contamination was not found by PCA or the state or federal food inspectors. Minnesota’s food-borne illness hotline set off the bells: A nursing home had three residents sickened by salmonella. Salmonella cases had been occurring in Minnesota for a month, longer in other states. Here was a potential cluster. Within three weeks, Minnesota identified King Nut peanut butter as the culprit, and Peanut Corporation of America as the producer. It was the first big break in a case that had sickened more than 677 nationwide and may have led to nine deaths.

The so-called national system for identifying food-borne illnesses relies on the efforts of hundreds of local, regional and state health departments, all with different capabilities, budgets, priorities and procedures. As the economy contracts, fewer and fewer health departments are capable of following up all reports of food-borne illnesses. In fact, many local, regional and state facilities are cutting back staff. Most major factory farms and processing plants still claim that voluntary recall of tainted products will ensure a safe food system.

There is a strong lobby in the United States that advocates irradiation of all fresh produce. In other words, sterilizing fresh produce or killing it to make it safe to eat. The major corporate food players have it backwards. The problem is the out-of-control filth and contamination that are inherent in our industrialized, now globalized, “profit-at-any-cost” food system. The nutrient value of fresh produce is lost through irradiation, including phytonutrients, which are certain organic components of plants, and these components are thought to promote human health. Fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and teas are rich sources of phytonutrients. So much of the controversy would not exist if common sense would prevail. Keep the farm environment clean—not sterile—but common sense clean. Please remember, bacteria is also beneficial in reasonable quantities. Don’t destroy the symbiotic relationship between growing/living organisms and bacteria.

Lastly, be aware of the new U.S. bill, HR 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009. It is too early to know if the bill will be a “one-size-fits-all,” which has the potential to put out of business certified organic and farm-to-consumer operations. It could have a devastating impact on small farmers. Congress should be focusing its attention on the real threats to food safety: globalized food sourcing from nations such as China, where food safety is a travesty and our domestic industrial-scale and factory farms whose collateral damage includes pesticide and antibiotic-tainted food, mad cow disease, E.coli contamination and salmonella poisoning. Congress and the Obama Administration need to support a massive transition to organic farming practices.

All facts came from the Organic Consumers Association’s web site.

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