Thursday, July 16, 2009

Big Ag Blues

I might be less skeptical about the Obama Rhetoric below were it not for developments in the real world. This article from the San Francisco Chronicle may be the most horrifying yet: despite the so- called "Green" attitudes of California voters, apparently perceptions of what is "sanitary" trumps all sense of what is good for the land and its inhabitants.

" Dick Peixoto planted hedges of fennel and flowering cilantro around his organic vegetable fields in the Pajaro Valley near Watsonville to harbor beneficial insects, an alternative to pesticides.

"He has since ripped out such plants in the name of food safety, because his big customers demand sterile buffers around his crops. No vegetation. No water. No wildlife of any kind.

""I was driving by a field where a squirrel fed off the end of the field, and so 30 feet in we had to destroy the crop," he said. "On one field where a deer walked through, didn't eat anything, just walked through and you could see the tracks, we had to take out 30 feet on each side of the tracks and annihilate the crop."

It gets worse.

"In the verdant farmland surrounding Monterey Bay, a national marine sanctuary and one of the world's biological jewels, scorched-earth strategies are being imposed on hundreds of thousands of acres in the quest for an antiseptic field of greens. And the scheme is about to go national.

"Invisible to a public that sees only the headlines of the latest food-safety scare - spinach, peppers and now cookie dough - ponds are being poisoned and bulldozed. Vegetation harboring pollinators and filtering storm runoff is being cleared. Fences and poison baits line wildlife corridors. Birds, frogs, mice and deer - and anything that shelters them - are caught in a raging battle in the Salinas Valley against E. coli O157:H7, a lethal, food-borne bacteria.

"In pending legislation and in proposed federal regulations, the push for food safety butts up against the movement toward biologically diverse farming methods, while evidence suggests that industrial agriculture may be the bigger culprit."


"A food safety bill sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, passed this month in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. It would give new powers to the Food and Drug Administration to regulate all farms and produce in an attempt to fix the problem. The bill would require consideration of farm diversity and environmental rules, but would leave much to the FDA.

"An Amish farmer in Ohio who uses horses to plow his fields could find himself caught in a net aimed 2,000 miles away at a feral pig in San Benito County. While he may pick, pack and sell his greens in one day because he does not refrigerate, the bagged lettuce trucked from Salinas with a 17-day shelf life may be considered safer."


"It's all based on panic and fear, and the science is not there," said Dr. Andy Gordus, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Game.

"Preliminary results released in April from a two-year study by the state wildlife agency, UC Davis and the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that less than one-half of 1 percent of 866 wild animals tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 in Central California.

"Frogs are unrelated to E. coli, but their remains in bags of mechanically harvested greens are unsightly, Gordus said, so "the industry has been using food safety as a premise to eliminate frogs."

"Farmers are told that ponds used to recycle irrigation water are unsafe. So they bulldoze the ponds and pump more groundwater, opening more of the aquifer to saltwater intrusion, said Jill Wilson, an environmental scientist at the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board in San Luis Obispo.

"Wilson said demands for 450-foot dirt buffers remove the agency's chief means of preventing pollution from entering streams and rivers. Jovita Pajarillo, associate director of the water division in the San Francisco office of the Environmental Protection Agency, said removal of vegetative buffers threatens Arroyo Seco, one of the last remaining stretches of habitat for steelhead trout."

There is a LOT more-- read it all. Meanwhile, also on the farm front, NAIS is rearing its ugly head again. Wendell Berry says he would go to jail over it, read it all and don't weep-- get angry!


Matt Mullenix said...


Seattle trial lawyer Bill Marler, who represented many of the plaintiffs in the 2006 E. coli outbreak in spinach, said, "If we want to have bagged spinach and lettuce available 24/7, 12 months of the year, it comes with costs."

Still, he said, the industry rules won't stop lawsuits or eliminate the risk of processed greens cut in fields, mingled in large baths, put in bags that must be chilled from packing plant to kitchen, and shipped thousands of miles away.

"In 16 years of handling nearly every major food-borne illness outbreak in America, I can tell you I've never had a case where it's been linked to a farmers' market," Marler said.

"Could it happen? Absolutely. But the big problem has been the mass-produced product. What you're seeing is this rub between trying to make it as clean as possible so they don't poison anybody, but still not wanting to come to the reality that it may be the industrialized process that's making it all so risky."

Cat Urbigkit said...

My orphan lambs at the house are busy eating mustard plants every day (their current preference), and it gives them green runny poop, which I manage to get on me every milk feeding. I guess it's a miracle I survive ...

Last week I was invited to bring lambs and a guard dog to a big library event. We ended up with about 90 kids, hands all over the animals, mauling them, giving kisses, pets, etc. I heard one adult get upset, saying something about E. coli. The kids ignored her, and all was well.

PBurns said...

Now here's the REALLY funny part. You know who picks those crops? Illegal aliens who entered the U.S. without a health inspection! And you know who guts the chickens and packages the peanuts? Illegal aliens who entered without health inspection! Of course, germs and disease are everywhere, so we hardly need animals or illegal aliens to spread salmonella and dysentary, do we? You want to stay health? Simple: wash your fruits and vegies, cook your meat, don't smoke or drink, and drive a little slower. Death by deer shit or illegal alien-borne pathogen is pretty unlikely next to the obvious.


Matt Mullenix said...

Patrick---how do we then talk sense into the USDA? How crazy will it have to get?

Anonymous said...

Tort reform.

Anonymous said...

God help us all if anyone from the USDA ever comes to the Midwest and sees deer browsing in a cornfield, or cattle turned loose in harvested soybean fields to forage over the winter before the next year's crop is planted the next spring.

Come to think of it, there are quail in those fields and maybe even ducks and geese in transit. I wonder how it is that we, out here in farming country have survived all these years. Goodness gracious, we spread manure on pasture as well - wonder what that does to the cattle grazing those fields. And people talk about "free range chickens" - I wonder if they've ever seen what a flock of chickens, left to their own devices will choose to eat, and where they poop?

But then I grew up in a time and place where I'd never have learned to ride a horse if I'd been forced to wear a helmet.