Insights by Goldie
The pursuit of good food — and a strong 2012 farm bill

Sound Consumer | October 2010

by Goldie Caughlan
Quality Standards Specialist

These days, I drift between occasional brief waves of fear and frustration, even moments of despair and “doomsday” doubts.

During the BP oil disaster, I had flashbacks to 9/11 feelings of “this can’t be happening!” and later relived the slow-motion and surreal unfolding of Katrina’s devastation. I find sleep escapes me many nights, sad and worried about each new earthquake, flood, tornado, melting icecap and other increasingly unnatural, unnerving event implying nature’s rebellion.

But mostly, I turn off the 24/7 approach to news and concentrate on thinking of the “other” unnatural disasters, those which absolutely can be foreseen, and lessened — or avoided altogether. The extent to which they are “under our control,” however, ultimately is up to us and how we decide to proceed to eliminate them.

I’m speaking specifically about the increasingly common and latest spate of the scourge of massive quantities of food recalled from industrial operations blatantly violating common sense — not to mention innumerable laws. In this latest outrage, more than a half billion eggs were produced in Iowa by two closely aligned, nefarious operators, who together had nearly two decades of numerous felony records for state and federal violations.

These inhumane, filthy caged-hen operations were classic breeding grounds for salmonella bacteria and other diseases, including potential massive avian flu outbreaks. They were traced to more than 1,500 known illnesses in a number of states.

And talk about adding insult-to-injury: as I write this in late August, no more eggs are being recalled from the operations. Rather, they’re being legally “diverted,” meaning they’re now pasteurized liquid eggs. How have we come to a place where we rail briefly about such activities ... and then … back to business as usual?

The Iowa Department of Agriculture reportedly was responsible for monitoring the sanitary conditions on these mega-farms, yet the farms escaped oversight due to a regulatory loophole. If this isn’t proof of how badly we need legislative reform in the food system, I don’t know what would be.

When you read this, in October, far-reaching food safety regulations may well have been passed — and we DO need some of those. Now, I know, many of you have read that such “reforms” are a fait accompli, another disaster, for small and family farms. They do not have to be and there are excellent chances that the solid work being done by sustainable and organic advocates will prevent any such train wreck — making oversight possible of the truly dangerous operators — while not punishing the independent family scale operations that are our greatest treasure and hope!

But the real, lasting, systemic changes that absolutely must be made can best be achieved by all of us who primarily are urban eaters. We need to learn all we can about the concerns and needs of this nation’s farmers and ranchers, and support those excellent groups who are very seriously organizing to push — hard — to make sure the 2012 Farm Bill puts the well-being of farmers, eaters and the environment first.

Let’s exercise our liberty to do what Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” suggests: change the name and the content to more aptly reflect these priorities. Let’s call it “The Food & Farming Bill.”

More about: farm bill, food safety, food systems

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