I’ve been worrying over some of the provisions of this bill, especially since some of my friends in small production agriculture are so dead set against it. They believe that the food safety requirements are an onerous encroachment on our freedom to produce, purchase and eat anything we want.
“It will kill back yard gardens,” they say. “It will make food production so expensive, the small guy will be put out of business,” is another complaint. “It’s just a ploy by big ag and big food to kill off the little guys.”
No, nothing in the bill even comes close to saying that.
Or this one: “My mother cooked for our family for years and sold home-made jams at the church. No one ever got sick.”
I don’t think so. Your mother was either incredibly lucky or you have a memory problem. Sorry.
Or this one: “It’s only the big guys that make those mistakes that sicken thousands. There has never been an instance of a small producer poisoning customers.”
Stuff and nonsense.
After the recent recalls and refusals to recall–all for foods made by boutique or artisanal food processors, I looked at cases of foodborne illnesses over the last decade. Bravo Cheese, the Costco supplier that produced a E. coli-tainted product that sickened at least 38 people in the Southwest and just pulled all their cheeses because of E. coli and Listeria, immediately came to mind.
And then there is Estrella Family Creamery, the Washington state-based artisan cheese maker that’s the latest darling of the ‘free my food’ crowd. The owner actually refused an FDA request to recall its cheeses after its facility and products were found to be contaminated with Listeria, a potentially fatal pathogen for the elderly, children, pregnant women and unborn babies.
I hope her pockets are as big as her cojones because, sooner-or-later, a lawyer is going to call on her and it will be hard to imagine any jury that won’t convict.
Even more, I hope her refusal starts a public outcry for the FDA and the USDA to have the legal right to force a recall, not just make a polite and toothless request.
Checking in with Bill Marler, the attorney who dominates the “sue the bastards” business and who probably has the most direct pipeline to the companies that get caught on the wrong end of food safety issues, I found these recent perps, all brought down by E. coli 0157:H7:
As they say on late night TV, “But, wait! There’s more!” but I won’t take you there. I think a full page-and-a-half makes my point. If you scan that list, you’ll find businesses of every size and product mix; meat, produce, dairy, restaurants, schools, senior living facilities, they are all there. Selling food that carries pathogens causing potentially fatal food borne illnesses is an equal opportunity proposition.
The big boys have in-house labs and scientists and access to the latest technologies to help them produce safe foods and they still fail from time-to-time. The little guys too often don’t have access to any of those safety backstops and while a problem at Karl Ehmer Meats might only effect a few thousand people in one state, while an error at Cargill can touch the lives of millions all across American, one grievously ill child or a dying grandparent is still one too many.
What scares me more than the Cargills of the world making production errors when they have access to the latest science and all the tools they need is the prospect of hundreds of boutique and artisanal producers with no idea that their output might be contaminated. They lack the knowledge and the chances that someone from the government might actually cross their doorstep and ask a pointed question or two is almost non-existent.
And, yes, before I get bombarded with incredible rants that this artisan or that boutique produces only the most wholesome product and takes better care of their output than a Cargill ever could, I know the vast majority of those businesses are run by serious, conscientious people.
But as Mark Mina, DVM, an FSIS Deputy Administrator, Field Operations, once said during the early days of the huge Hudson Meat ground beef recall in 1997, “There are two types of business out there, those that have had a recall and those that will have a recall.”
So should anyone putting a food item into commerce get a free pass because he or she runs a business that’s “too small to afford” the proposed food safety requirements? Absolutely not. If the business is too small to afford the necessities, it is definitely too small to afford the kind of payment Cargill is making to Stephanie Smith.
Editor’s note: With Senate action on the Food Safety Bill approaching, we received more opinion pieces than we had space in our format, so these contributions from Chuck Jolley and Roland McReynolds are being posted in the news section.