Wednesday, May 9, 2007

It's Time to Demand Safe Food

By Lisa Sedlar

Here we go again, another case of our industrial food system failing us. A few months ago it was contaminated spinach, last week it was pork and chicken and this week it’s fish. You may have read in the news last week that the USDA recalled 20 million chickens because their feed was mixed with pet food containing an industrial chemical. Melamine, the same ingredient that has sickened thousands of pets nationwide, has now been found in U.S fish hatchery feed.

I keep wondering when our government agencies will realize that industrial farming is not sustainable for us eaters, for the farmers or for the environment. I had the pleasure of hearing the founder of Slow Food, Carlo Petrini, speak last night at the Schnitz. He spoke something many of us need to hear: common sense. I’m paraphrasing because he speaks Italian, but the essence of his message was that our current wide-scale food production methods are killing the earth. The ingredients required for healthy farming are simple: Sun, water, seed and manure. He went on to emphasize how supporting local agricultural communities can heal the Earth.

I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Petrini. Our food system needs a critical and immediate overhaul. At the top of the list is creating traceability, accountability and country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for the products we buy. We have a right to know where and how our food is grown. In Europe, it’s mandatory that food labels disclose this information so that eaters can make informed decisions. We need to demand that the FDA and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (the USDA's regulatory agency responsible for overseeing food labeling) do the same.

At New Seasons Market we utilize country-of-origin labeling for all our produce, meat, poultry and fish. It takes some extra effort to update our signs regularly and trace where these products come from, but it’s definitely doable – and we feel it’s our responsibility.

We also believe that the grocery industry itself needs to shift its thinking. The Food Marketing Institute, the lobbying group representing over 26,000 grocery stores and about three-quarters of all domestic retail food sales, has fought against country-of-origin labeling for years. This is one of the reasons that New Seasons Market resigned from the organization last year.

Currently, the FMI is working against local governments across the nation in an effort to prevent country-of-origin labeling, something they refer to as "mandatory madness." FMI President Tim Hammonds himself has said in Congressional testimony: “I would emphasize that today there is industrywide support for voluntary country of origin labeling. This new legislation is endorsed by well over 300 organizations representing every industry segment. The mandatory approach to labeling will only increase costs for consumers and reduce sales for the very producers it is supposed to help. Voluntary country of origin labeling will succeed where the mandatory law cannot.”

Really? I can’t think of too many successful voluntary government programs.

What are your thoughts?

1 comment:

straycat said...

“The mandatory approach to labeling will only increase costs for consumers…”

Seriously? Forgive me if the answer is obvious, but how does labeling produce increase costs? If European countries are participating in country of origin labeling with success, we (i.e. national food industry bodies) should glean guidance from them.