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Good News, Bad News: Eggs & Strawberries

By Paul Rutkovsky

Lately the food industry is getting lots of attention in the mainstream media, first with the recall of half a billion eggs from two factory farms in Iowa, and later the published results of an important research project about organic strawberries in the prestigious journal PLoS ONE.

Most of us know about the egg recall, because many people were ill as a result of eating eggs tainted with salmonella. Once the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) received hundreds of calls reporting food-based illnesses, including hospitalization, the media paid attention. The salmonella was traced back to factory farms in Iowa.

There’s good news coming from a two-year research project at Washington State University. The new study, “Fruit and Soil Quality of Organic and Conventional Strawberry Agroecosystems,” concludes that organic strawberries, which contain higher concentrations of vital phenolic acids and antioxidants, like Vitamin C, are more shelf stable, lack residues of synthetic pesticides, and benefit from more diverse soil microbial communities. On September 5, I was listening to Science Friday on NPR and heard Dr. Charles Benbrook, chief scientist for The Organic Center, say, “I think the study confirms something that observant organic farmers over many years, indeed centuries, have suspected, and that is a healthier soil produces healthier plants; and healthier plants produce healthier food.” It’s great to hear this kind of pronouncement, but it’s also alarming that we seem to need scientific evidence to prove what farmers and “non-experts” have known for centuries. Dr. Benbrook goes on to say, “In general, I think the science is very clear that consuming more fresh fruits and vegetables and more of these micronutrients does promote good health.” In the long run, this may be the only way to convince the public how to recall the old days, when common sense ruled the diet and for centuries primitive cultures ate organic food. Now the question becomes; will we listen to the factory farming lobby that emphatically states the world cannot be fed efficiently with organic foods? They claim that genetic engineering and chemically treated crops are the only way to feed 6.5 billion people.

You may not know this, but the bad news is that removing tainted food out of the grocery store is not up to the FDA; the industry self-regulates and decides whether it should remove questionable spinach, ground beef, eggs, etc. This behavior is not grounded in common sense. If I were a factory farmer, I wouldn’t pull tons of beef, peanuts or spinach off the market until people ended up in the hospital and the media started calling my personal cell phone number. That’s how it works now.

One good step forward would be for the Senate to pass the Food Safety Bill (SB 510) as soon as possible. Last year the House passed the bill, which would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority to order a recall. It would also improve procedures for tracing food back to its source, increase the frequency of FDA inspections of food processors, and require on-farm safety standards for produce. The Food Safety Bill is not a great bill—it includes a lot of compromises to factory farming lobbyists—however, as it stands, there is a little muscle included to regulate out of control disease-ravaged factory farms.

All facts came from: Organic Consumers Association’s web site, www.organicconsumers.org, National Public Radio, Science Friday

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