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January 9, 2009

Locavorism May Be Hazardous to Your Health!
I'd like to chalk this up to mere stupidity, but I have a feeling this isn't the last we'll hear of the "dangers" of buying local. The Seattle PI's food writer, Rebekah Denn, uncovered a Top Ten List created by the food-borne illness outbreak super-lawyer, Bill Marler. You may not recognize his name, but food giants like Jack In the Box, Odwalla, KFC, ConAgra and Cargill do. Anyway, he listed "Local Food" as the number 2 "challenge" to the food system in 2009, second only to globalization. Marler frames the risks like this:
Outbreaks linked to local food and/or farmer's markets. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) groups and food co-ops need to demonstrate knowledge and practice of food safety, and be inspected. In addition to produce and meats/fish, prepared items are currently unsupervised in some, but not all locations.
That's right, your local farmer/coop/food producer is trying to poison you!!! As if it's the produce you buy at your local farmers market that could be contaminated with poisons, industrial chemicals, antibiotics or E. coli. We know where to look if we want to get that stuff - and it's not through our CSA.

Other than being ridiculous, however, his rationale for suspicion of local food isn't baseless - no one should get a free pass. In fact, his "fears" provide a partial rationale for our current system of "industrialized" large-scale food production. By centralizing food production and distribution, it's supposed to allow for easier regulation, inspections and safety. Only it hasn't really turned out that way, has it? Meanwhile, where are the big "local" outbreaks? Small scale food doesn't lead to nationwide food outbreaks and hundreds of deaths.

It's like arguing that it's dangerous to eat in local restaurants - there are so many of them! Who knows what they're doing! Better stick to the big chains! Local health boards have their troubles, but by and large they do a pretty good job with local food safety - and they're in charge of farmers markets and CSAs, too. It's a system that could use improvement, but is it the second greatest challenge to food safety? I think Marler is confusing his livelihood with our food safety - he knows better than anyone that suing a small farmer leaves you with dirt, not paydirt.

It's true that you do hear a lot of complaints from small food producers about the burden of complying with complex regulation. It's also true that product labeling, especially for small producers, is a disaster, running the gamut from confusing to outright dishonest. Still, this seems like scare-mongering rather than consumer education - although it doesn't help when food safety scientists board this particular bus. I wish I could just ignore this kind of drivel, but I'm always looking for the backlash to any "trend" that turns out to be prescient - and locavorism is already getting some. So, I'm just saying. Locavores, watch your backs.

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Anonymous Bill Marler said...

Nice Job

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