Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Planting the seeds of change
The Northern California fields that produce much of the lettuce and spinach you're likely to eat this summer haven't been planted yet. The seeds go in the ground in less than 60 days - time farmers still need to determine how to best prevent a repeat of last year's deadly bacteria outbreaks linked to their crops. The problem-solving is becoming contentious.
In mid-January, farmers, hoping to control their own fate through self-regulation, met to hash out a plan for better safety standards. A state senator dissatisfied with that plan presented bills last week that would give the state control. The federal government spoke out last week, too. In a highly critical report, the Government Accountability Office described the nation's food safety measures as "inconsistent" and "ineffective." The president's 2008 budget calls for $341 million for the Food and Agriculture Defense Initiative, an increase of $19 million, or almost 6 percent more money compared with 2007 spending.
But how can that be done when farmers and even top scientists don't fully understand how bacteria such as E.coli, which can taint salad greens, operate?
"It's there one minute but it's gone the next," Dale Huss, a grower who helps manage a medium-size farm, said. "We're being asked to build metrics around something that is a phantasma."
A microscopic bio-ghost, but Huss is optimistic, kneeling into his soil to smell the dirt. It smells fresh - the kind, he says, that will grow a good crop. Huss says he knows the dirt is safe because it's routinely tested. But not all farms in California do that - just one example of a system with vulnerabilities and a new planting season looming.
What food safety issues concern you the most?
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