Remember Farmers Market season is just about upon us (mine start May 5th) so now is the time to hop on the local foods bandwagon. Remember the food corporations care about shareholders, not us and the USDA is run by these corporate interests.
If you didn't have enough reasons to make preservation of local agriculture a top priority, perhaps the latest developments related to the melamine contamination of pet food will convince you.
If you've been following recent national and local news headlines you should have seen stories regarding the melamine contaminated "pet" food being introduced into our food supply by hog farmers who fed their animals the aforementioned contaminated product to their animals as "salvage" pet food. Salvage pet food means pet food (dog and cat) in distribution that is no longer available for retail sale. Examples of distressed pet food include, but are not limited to, dented cans, torn bags, or pet food past its sell-by date....and apparently although is not good enough to be fed to our pets, it is apparently good enough to be fed to livestock that will eventually end up on your family's table. Interestingly enough, there is actually a Federal ban on feeding salvage pet food to ruminants due to fear of spreading BSE. here's the gist of it:
"A Federal rule that prohibits feeding protein derived from the tissues of animals to ruminant animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, deer, elk, bison, and buffalo became effective on August 4, 1997. The purpose of the regulation is to prevent the establishment and amplification of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the United States, and thereby minimize any risk to animals and humans. "
So the USDA recognizes potential danger in using salvage pet food to feed livestock, but is willing to make some exceptions.
Preliminary investigation by independent watchdog groups, the media, and our own Congress has turned up what amounts to massive failure and negligence on the part of our government agencies to protect our food supply. According to the USDA the main sources of contaminated or inappropriate food products appear to be FOREIGN in nature. However, there is NO ban on feeding salvage pet food (or a number of other questionable or non-USDA approved items) to livestock in many countries we import food from...and so here we are back to foreign food imports that don't get much attention from our inspectors being introduced into our food supply.
Additionally, the amount of foreign food products and ingredients imported into the US has increased substantially in the last few years. In 2001, the United States imported about $4.4 billion worth of ingredients processed from plants or animals, according to analysis by the Associated Press. By last year that total leaped to $7.6 billion — a 73 percent increase. Other food and drink imports rose from $38.3 billion to $63 billion — up 65 percent. Unfortunately, there has been no effort on the part of our regulating government agencies to increase the scope of inspections on said products. The lack of oversight appears to be even greater with respect to food ingredients, like the contaminated wheat gluten that was used in the recent pet food debacle. In fact former USDA official, Carl Nielsen, whose job until he left in 2005 was to make sure field inspectors were checking the right imports said, "I don't ever remember working on ingredients.. That was the lowest priority..."
"The lowest priority". $7.6 billion dollars worth of ingredients going into your family's food is of no consequence to the government agencies whose job it is to protect our food supply. Not very reassuring, is it.
I'm going to briefly change subjects and touch on the latest edition of the US Farm Bill. The same folks who are responsible for the mess covered above are the brain trust behind what is perhaps the WORST piece of agriculture related legislation in history. I won't get into the details, there are plenty of other folks out there who have dissected this bill and they are a whole lot smarter than I am. In fact, if you're the intellectually curious type, you can find out more by following one of the links below:
What I can tell you is that the 2007 Farm Bill opens the door of our nation to even more foreign food imports and does not address the issue of import food safety at all. Also, it continues the taxpayer funded, corporate welfare program designed to reward large, agribusiness commodity growers and completely disenfranchises the small, local farmer. The very same local farmers who are our last hope to provide us with a safe food system. So much for national food security.
So there you have it. Compelling reasons to not only support and preserve local agriculture, but to have serious concerns about the safety of our food supply. Please folks, I know that when buying locally sometimes it might cost a little more or may not be as convenient, but for the sake of our nation, our communities, and your family, put your best foot forward and do even a small part to save our local farms. Here in Clark County, WA you can start helping out by writing to our county commissioners and letting them know that you do not support the proposed County Land Use policy and that you want to see more effort going into policy that will support, preserve, and encourage local agriculture. Our children will thank us.
Thanks for your support,
Slow Food SW Washington
Clark County Food & Farm