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CUESA: Food Safety in Biodiversity; CAFOs are contamination source

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  • carmen_cebs
    We all want food free of mercury, salmonella, and E. coli. But is food safety just about the absence of contaminants? For Jo Ann Baumgartner of the Wild Farm
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 7, 2009
      We all want food free of mercury, salmonella, and E. coli. But is
      food safety just about the absence of contaminants?
      For Jo Ann Baumgartner of the Wild Farm Alliance, true food safety
      starts with biodiversity, or the cultivation of a wide variety of
      life forms in every farm ecosystem.
      A safe food system requires attention to every level, from
      production to food service. Whereas the current crisis around
      salmonella in peanut butter is drawing attention to the importance
      of sanitation at food processing facilities, the 2006 outbreak of E.
      coli in bagged spinach pointed a finger at raw produce and the farms
      that grow it. And while cleaning up large-scale food processing may
      improve safety, sterilizing farmland — or removing it of all life
      but the food crop — has in fact caused a great deal of controversy.
      Baumgartner's organization has been documenting the fallout of this
      strategy and its impact on farms. Unfortunately, she says, measures
      to make California agriculture safe in the short term could mean
      much less actual safety in the long run.
      "Farmers are being forced to implement misguided requirements," says
      Baumgartner. "It's not based on science and it is really harming
      wildlife and the environment," she adds.
      In response to the spinach contamination, farms that want to sell
      salad greens on a medium or large scale are being asked to comply
      with standards established by handlers and shippers. These standards
      require measures such as creating bare ground buffers at the edge of
      fields, the removal of hedgerows, and the addition of fences that
      block established wildlife corridors. In addition to removing
      habitat, many farmers are also trapping and poisoning wildlife.
      Baumgartner points to a 2007 grower survey conducted by the Monterey
      Country Resource Conservation District; 89% of the farmers who
      responded said they were taking some kind of measure to remove or
      fence out wildlife. Wild Farm Alliance also recently flew over the
      Central Valley with the help of volunteer pilots through LightHawk
      and found that over a mile of riparian trees had been cut down,
      among other things.
      iodiversity on the farm can actually help improve safety in a number
      of ways. Hedgerows and native grasses are home to beneficial
      insects, which can significantly reduce problem pests in crops and
      do away with the need for pesticides, and thus keep chemical residue
      out of our food. Native pollinators also make their home in
      hedgerows and wild areas. But that's not where it ends; grasses and
      wetlands also act as filters, removing pathogens that may appear on
      farms near industrial scale livestock operations, where the cows are
      the most significant carrier of E. coli. According to a recent Wild
      Farm Alliance report, "just one meter of grass can filter E. coli
      from cow feces during a rainstorm."
      Baumgartner thinks the focus on eliminating vegetation and wildlife
      from farms not only removes an important safeguard, it also ignores
      what she believes is the source of the contamination: confined
      animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
      Oddly, not much has been reported in the media about the potential
      links between CAFOs and E. coli. The extreme concentration in these
      facilities and the practice of feeding cows sub-therapeutic
      antibiotics make CAFOs a significant risk. Meanwhile, attention has
      instead been focused on animals such as deer, which, Baumgartner
      says, have only been shown to be carriers of the bacteria 1-2% of
      the time.
      What can the average eater do? Buying salad mix directly from
      farmers — and bypassing the need for middle men like handlers and
      shippers — is an importantstart. That way, says Baumgartner, "you
      know your greens haven't gone to a huge processing plant where
      they've been washed with a million other pounds of salad mix."
      What's more, this choice also means the freshest produce.
      It might be equally important, however, for sustainability-minded
      eaters to help shift the idea that a dichotomy must exist between
      our wilderness and farmlands. Just thinking and talking about the
      link between biodiversity and food safety can make an impact.
      "Do we want to confine diversity to pristine national park areas and
      sterilize our farm land?" Baumgartner asks. "I would say no.
      Instead, farms can be a buffer between developed areas and rural
      wild areas and benefit from the diversity that creates."
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