Dodgy food has always made people sick (hideous drunken takeaway memories, anyone?), yet as science progresses we are becoming more intolerant of food that causes serious illness. Less and less contact with dirt and animals, and an obsession with cleanliness must be contributing to compromised immune systems and allergies somewhere along the line. Close to 100 million people a year are sickened by food in the US, of these only 5,000 people die. Yet there is a desire to drive this number to zero, using ever more extreme measures that ironically may threaten local food systems where they have been almost no problems.
Ever since the spinach industry was shut down in 2006 – after 200 people were seriously sickened and five died from E.coli that they contracted from bagged spinach – the threat of unreasonable requirements on produce growers, particularly growers for local markets who have never had food safety problems, looms large.
There are now several federal government food safety regulatory processes underway that could impose drastic, sterile farming practices everywhere. This is of particular concern to the small-scale farmer who already struggles with the regulatory burden placed upon him. Instead of scrutiny here perhaps more attention should be focused on our increasingly industrialised and globalised food system, where we consume more processed foods and more foods from distant regions.