We just returned home from the community forum in Brewer, Maine, where a group of concerned farmers and patrons gathered to discuss the local food ordinance and what the next steps are in regaining our basic rights and access to healthy local foods. My main question, going into the forum, was “if we pass the ordinance, how will we ensure food safety at farmers markets and directly from our local farms? If unregulated, how will local food be guaranteed not to make me sick?
Less than an hour into the discussion, I knew all I needed to know. The facts and statistics are clear:
#1 There is no guarantee, ever. Farms that are licensed and inspected continue to be the source of widespread, food-borne illness across the country. The expensive food-safety measures employed using our tax money are simply inadequate to prevent consumers from getting sick and dying. When a farm is inspected, it may not be inspected again for another 3 or 4 years…its kind of like a bed check at a summer camp: just be in your bed when the staff comes around, and then do whatever once they leave….for three years!
#2 More regulations will not solve the problem of food safety. Inspection and regulation cannot test the food for “safety,” but it simply evaluates the food handling procedures. “Regulation” is actually much less technical or complicated than you might think…it just comes with a big price tag. If regulation was working, people wouldn’t keep getting food-borne illness, and we wouldn’t be seeing these huge meat and produce recalls in the news. Soon, we will be hearing about the need for more corporate-sponsored government intervention to create better food safety procedures, and we know what this means: higher levels of food irradiation, more chemical residues in your food, more artificial ripening and obscene meat processing practices, genetically modified foods, and less choices about what Americans can eat. This is not a path we want, or can afford, to continue on.
#3 A Local Food Ordinance will promote real food safety. Some folks say, “just because I can meet my local farmer has nothing to do with food safety.” Wrong. I returned home today only to read about the beef recall from Hannaford. There were many alarming things about the articles I read. Consider this quote: ” Although the USDA pointed to Hannaford’s record-keeping as an impediment to the investigation, Norton said the grocery chain is ‘following industry practice and standards in terms of records’.” The problem being referred to here is that the source of the contaminated meat cannot be traced, due to the record-keeping practices, but the record- keeping practices are consistent with industry practice and standards. What exactly does this mean? Industry “standards” not only cannot protect you from sickness and death, but they also cannot trace the source of the sickness. The problems in industrial farming are manifold. One simple and inspiring solution is to know where your food comes from, which, in this case, Hannaford cannot figure out. One guarantee I can give you is that your local farmer is not farming to get rich, and she or he certainly doesn’t want anyone in the community to get sick from eating their food (for both personal and financial reasons). Real food security exists in knowing your farmer, and personally inspecting their farm (if you can’t, don’t buy the food!)
#4 A Local Food Ordinance is not a perfect solution. But it’s the beginning of a very, very necessary conversation. And it’s a legal process of redress in accordance with our constitutional rights. Actually, it’s a restatement of rights we already have, we just need to remind our federal government that we understand the meaning of The Constitution of the United States of America, as well as the Maine Constitution. Real security and safety can be found by returning to the roots of what our country was founded on.
There are several articles about the Hannaford beef recall. We have no particular criticism of Hannaford- its a standard grocery store…this simply is one among thousands of industrial farm-food recalls that poison our communities, and we want a solution that represents real food safety, not another broken government system. That’s why we want local rules for local food.