Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The New Leafy Greens Proposal

There is a proposal before the USDA that was submitted by several large scale growers and handlers of leafy greens. They claim to support a systematic application of good agricultural production, handling, and manuacturing intended to minimize the potential for microbal contamination.

This is an industry response to the e coli 0157:H7 contamination that affected 26 states and resulted in 199 people sick and 3 people dead in September 2006. The problem with this response is that it does not attack the source of the problem. The proposal attempts to eliminate contamination by setting up large areas of naked soil and barriers to wildlife. As Jack Bradigan Spula writes, " The truth is, when it comes to soiling the soil, wildlife can't remotely compete with domesticated herds housed in the ag-equivalent of concentration camps."

The major source of contamination is actually CAFOs - concentrated animal feeding operations (feedlots). In feedlots bovines are fed high concentrations of corn which force them to grow quickly, but result in a sick animal due to acid imbalance in their guts. E coli outbreaks were virtually unknown when cattled were ranged on grass. The concentration of contaminated manure often enters and contaminates the ecosystems downstream.

As Russel Libby, executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners states the agencies are not interested "in regulations to eliminate [pathogenic] bacteria from the system because that would mean challenging the notion of feedlots and grain fed beef [and by extension dairy cows]. Instead their idea is to isolate vegetable production from livestock to eliminate cross - contamination."

Will Fantel of Cornucopia Institute seconds this opinion. He states, "This proposed safety agreement will do nothing to tackle the root causes of the problem, which is in most cases, manure from confined animal feeding operations that is tainted with disease causing pathogenic bacteria."

The proposal also recommends the establishment of a food safety seal to encourage consumers to buy the "safe" vegetables rather than direct local sales from small scale growers. This will hurt small scale local growers. Tom Willey, a certified organic grower says, " I am concerned that organic and small an medium sized growers like mself, will become marketplace second class citizens in the eyes of consumers by implying my produce is less safe - when the very opposite is likely to be true."

His statement seems quite valid in light of the state of California's recall of1717 cartons of spinach due to salmonella contamination after these industry standards had been adopted by the state of California!

As Will Fantel concludes, " The Cornucopia Institute agrees that the safety of our food supply is a vitally important issue. This is precisely why we believe the USDA should not allow corporate handlers to mix serious food safety concerns with their self-serving market interests."

For more information check out Cornucopia's website: www.cornucopia.org or P.O. Box126, Cornucopia, WI 54827 or (608)625-2042. Their newsletter cultivate@cornucopia.org.

Consider buying from local, small scale growers. Consider contacting legislators and the USDA. Remember consumer pressure in 1992 forced the USDA to maintain the suggested organic standards!

January and February at Keppers

Like the two - faced Roman god Janus, We look back at the year behind and forward to the year ahead. After briefly celebrating our successes, we focus on the on the areas we could improve, and set out to change, tweak, refine - to move ahead.

This year we are analyzing and deciding which areas of the business are sustainable and which are not. Some of this became apparent while doing tax preparation. As we shift direction, we need to zero in on not only working dilligently, but also effectively. As Ken says. we need to get real.

After tax prep, there is the seed inventory and deciding what we should order and from whom. Each year we try some new experimental varieties,and we abandon things that just don't work for us. We have tried artichokes and okra in past years. Stay tuned for for new items in 2010.

Ken continues to tackle things that he didn't have time to do during the busy growing season. It takes time to organize before starting new projects.

Once the seed order and taxes are done, I have a small window of time and energy to reclaim work areas from projects I have set aside - mending, witing, reading and projects I want to get to do like weaving and making gourd shakers and other percussion instruments.

The winter is a time for quiet, internal growth. Like the seed in the ground, growth and movement may not be obvious, but it is about to become so!