Thursday, September 11, 2008

Damned Tootin'

Found while thesis writing:

Safe at any scale? Food scares, food regulation, and scaled alternatives

Author(s): DeLind LB (DeLind, Laura B.), Howard PH (Howard, Philip H.)
Source: AGRICULTURE AND HUMAN VALUES Volume: 25 Issue: 3 Pages: 301-317 Published: SEP 2008

The 2006 outbreak of E. coli O157:H7, traced to bagged spinach from California, illustrates a number of contradictions. The solutions sought by many politicians and popular food analysts have been to create a centralized federal agency and a uniform set of production standards modeled after those of the animal industry. Such an approach would disproportionately harm smaller-scale producers, whose operations were not responsible for the epidemic, as well as reduce the agroecological diversity that is essential for maintaining healthy human beings and ecosystems. Why should responses that only reinforce the problem be proffered? We use the framework of accumulation and legitimation to suggest corporate and government motives for concealing underlying problems and reinforcing powerful ideologies of individualism, scientism, and centralizing authority. Food safety (or the illusion of safety) is being positioned to secure capital rather than public welfare. We propose implementing the principle of subsidiarity as a more democratic and decentralized alternative. Because full implementation of this principle will be resisted by powerful interests, some promising intermediate steps include peer production or mass collaboration as currently applied to disease prevention and surveillance, as well as studying nascent movements resisting current food safety regulations.

The journal can be found here: Agriculture and Human Values, though I'm sorry to say it's behind a subscription wall. Your tax dollars at work -- keeping you from knowing the research you've helped subsidize. =]

The article seems to be following the tact suggested a while back by noted political scientist and food policy researcher Ken Dahlberg of Western Michigan University and more recently by Michael Pollan of The Omnivore's Dilemma fame. (Yes, I'm too lazy/busy to look up the link to Amazon or whatnot for The O's D for you. Deal. =) That is, local food isn't just better for the environment, it's better for food safety -- because with centralization, an outbreak at one center could mean the whole Eastern Seaboard gets salmonella poisoning; if you get your meat from John or Joan the Butcher or Jacob or Jackie the Farmer, if they fuck up, perhaps tens, hundreds of people are affected, max -- and they also know where to look. That is, the accountability structure doesn't break down. Either John, Joan, Jacob and Jackie were negligent -- in which case, they're going to lose a lot business, and rightly so -- or it was a legitimate mishap beyond their controlling or at least within reasonability, and their customers will stay loyal out of personal faith and trust that this was an exception. (Plus, the 4 Js will probably give you a discount for a while.) Meanwhile, accountability for recent break-outs has been diffuse, confusing, uncertain, and hard to follow, to the point where it's mostly gone from the public mind again, yet I doubt many think the system that produced such an outbreak has substantively reformed (much less a negligent company going out of business, or firing anyone for the mistake other than the lowest people on the line).

Schlosser, Pollan and others attempting to be the Upton Sinclairs of our times seem to have made an impact, but we're still not getting it. Perhaps they're not socialist enough.

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