cb: On food safety, vs. Senate bill S.510 and the proposed Food Safety Administration

Sharon Astyk makes a compelling argument that local food production can be safe and wholesome.

The cost, though, is prohibitive. Regulations regard every operation as if they are selling into the mainstream, national exposure of industrial agriculture.

Consider the hamburger, a chunk of meat taken from the ground up parts of perhaps 1,000 different cows, or maybe just one. The point is that the meat industry takes all the pieces and blends them together, so that meat from grass-fed young animals won’t taste one way, and retired (old) dairy cows and bulls (tasting of their stronger hormones) won’t taste another. Blend them all, and the taste stays consistent, hiding the healthier taste and quality into the mix.

Or milk. Milk is gathered from the cow, mixed into the daily gathering’s tank, gathered into the bulk transport, gathered into the processing plant vats. Each gathering from transport, from farm, from cow, must be clean and safe, in order for the bulk tank to be safe, and then for each container filled from that tank to be safe.

When Joe down the road milks his cow, and pours it into a quart jar with his name and date, you need the cow to be healthy, and Joe to work cleanly. And that is it. If Joe makes a mistake, maybe 20 people will be affected; if Joe were selling to a big dairy association (they won’t take Joe’s milk if he has less than a hundred cows), his mistake could affect thousands of households. It economically affordable to be extra sure the big, bulk processing inputs are all regulated and mistake-free (or almost).

Joe and his cow, and the folk that prefer the taste of non-watered milk from Joe’s cow, should be allowed to buy what they want. Even if it doesn’t have enough water added to make it USDA-compliant so-called “whole” milk.

My thought has been to limit regulations to those selling 10,000 servings per year. That would place a fairly reasonable definition of “small producer” on the books.

A local supplier selling their own products, under their label, means that tracking problems back to the source gets quite simple. Different regulations should apply when your products aren’t mixed in with someone else’s products. The tomatoes in a bin labeled “Brad’s Tomatoes” should have different regulations than the bin labeled “Product of Chile”. (I have nothing against Chile or other places, and I am happy to have their fruits when they are available.)

If I sell Sharon a bushel of, say, loofa (if I can get the dang fruit to grow nearly as well as the vine), and it keeps that “Brad’s Garden” identifier right to the sale to the customer, so the customer can call and complain to me or identify me to the county health or doctor or whoever needs problems reported to – that satisfies, and should set that bushel aside from, public health concerns. Because at that point, the exposure isn’t “the public” to “the product” – it is “my community” exposed to “Brad’s Garden”. And that is a personal, entirely different kind of relationship.

Just one for-instance. Try suing Brad’s Garden for $10. I go out of business. And anything I might have been growing is lost to the community. If I should be shut down, then everyone (but me) wins. Should someone think twice about cost to the community, before suing? I think so. Especially if any problem could be corrected in person.

This kind of approach would pose a problem for a roadside stand or grocer that wants to lump the last of apples from Brad’s Garden with the apples from two neighbors into a remnants bin. Maybe.

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