Rettland Farm

Rettland Farm

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dead Canaries

So, I've managed to keep quiet about the outbreak of salmonellosis associated with eggs. At least, until now.

No, I'm not going to beat the drum for small, independent egg producers like yours truly, though I know we produce a superior product in both taste and quality. I'm not going to jump up on the soapbox and howl about how something like this would never happen on a small farm, because it could. Is it likely? No. But possible? Yep. Anyone who claims otherwise is very seriously tempting fate.

No, I'm disgusted by other details that have come to light.

I am completely awestruck by the number of eggs potentially infected with Salmonella--500 MILLION. Can you imagine?? If you took those eggs and laid them end to end, they would stretch 15,782 MILES. Mind boggling, right? But here's the real kick in the pants:

All of those eggs came from two farms.

Which brings me to the point. Through consolidation of farms and food processors, the base of our food production system has become perilously narrow. As the numbers of farms, and more importantly farmers, has dwindled, so has the diversity and stability of the food supply. When a bacterial infection on TWO FARMS leads to thousands of sick people over a range of thousands of miles, it exposes ugly vulnerabilities in the system. We literally have too many eggs in one basket, pun intended.

We ended up here because we demanded cheap food. The titans of industry were happy to oblige, and found ways to put a dozen eggs in the grocery case for a buck or less. But those ways involved creating massive egg operations with millions of birds producing a mediocre product in both taste and quality; automated management systems; questionable animal husbandry practices; and low paid "technicians" to monitor it all.

And eggs are just the latest food on the Grocery List of Shame to have their safety called into question. Spinach, alfalfa sprouts, peanuts, tomatoes, peppers...all have had their own moments under the Cruel Spotlight of Infamy in recent memory. They all share a common denominator though--massive operations that either can't effectively monitor their product quality because of the sheer size of the operation, or won't monitor it because of the effect on profitability.

These food scares amount to a whole stack of dead canaries in the proverbial coal mine, folks. They should be serving as a warning of the dangers of a vertically integrated, centralized food production and distribution system controlled by corporate, profit-centered bohemoths. Sadly though, our poor dead canaries are too often forgotten, once the evening news moves on to other tragedies, and the allure of 89 cent a dozen eggs proves too hard to resist.