Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tainted tomatoes

The recent outbreak of salmonella-infected tomatoes has put more than 25 people in the hospital and sickened hundreds, but really it is just the latest in a long line of sickness and recalls. In just the last few years we've had salmonella in tomatoes, spinach, and lettuce, eColi in peanut butter, beef from downer cows. Whether it's because of staffing and budget cuts, factory and giant agribusiness farms or a combination - something is seriously wrong with our food growing and distribution system.

The CDC reports that food-borne illnesses increased more than tenfold between 1970 and 1999 and 76 million people have been infected annually. While the FDA simultaneously insists that our food supply is the "safest in the world", it daily struggles to handle fundamental food safety in the face of a crippling lack of resources. Two weeks ago salmonella-infected tomatoes quickly made their way to more than 16 states with documented outbreaks. Last week, with 28 states reporting cases, the magnitude of the problem became quickly evident: the FDA had failed us yet again.

This type of contamination is well understood and avoidable. Salmonella- and eColi-poisoned produce is created indirectly by our nation's "animal factories," where inhumane and overly crowded conditions produce tainted manure that can contaminate agricultural water sources and make its way to farm fields as fertilizer.

You can still eat tomatoes however - locally grown tomatoes can be a safe alternative. Go to the farmers market this weekend, talk to the farmer that grew the tomatoes and buy a few pounds without a worry in the world. Unlike the salmonella tomatoes which have been shipped all over the country and grown on large, industrial, mechanized farms, small-scale local farms are run by farmers who know their land, what they put in it, and what comes out of it.

No comments: