Metal fragments in your Frosted Mini Wheats? Salmonella in your organic peanut butter? That’s just par for the course in modern day food production. In the past two weeks alone, the FDA has recalled 44 foods for not meeting safety standards, most involved salmonella bacteria, but metal fragments were also found in some cereal boxes.
44 cases is high, though not out of the ordinary. The previous two weeks (September 15 to October 1) saw 34 recalls of food products for safety violations. Many of the recalled foods were organic or Whole Foods’ name brand.
The Washington Post reported last year that salmonella infection is on the rise. While Congress recently gave the FDA more power to require food makers and farmers to prevent contamination from salmonella and other pathogens, the agency lacks the funding to do its job.
Dr. David Katz, blogging for Huffington Post, noted recently that “the FDA has never maintained the person-power required to inspect the food supply with the rigor required to forestall such outbreaks more reliably than they do. And nobody else steps in to pick up the slack.”
Imagine what would happen with even more government deregulation. We need government agencies that hold food production companies accountable for health and safety violations and offer incentives that create safer production processes.
Of course the FDA is not the only reason food is making us sick. Conditions for workers at large scale, corporate farms and factories are bad. Wages are stagnant, benefits nonexistent, and safety is a four-letter word. Our food systems will never be clean, safe and healthy as long as workers toil away in unsanitary, demoralizing conditions.
Because agriculture jobs are undesirable, the majority of the workers filling these critical jobs are immigrants. For those who are undocumented (as a large portion are) it’s even more harrowing. In addition to being paid little and treated poorly for backbreaking work, often because they are immigrants, these workers also fear deportation and lack access to a social safety net.
It’s not enough for those that can afford it to buy local. It’s not enough to buy organic. As long as we continue to de-fund the FDA and other agencies, contaminated food will continue to be sold on grocery store shelves. As long as the corporate farms and factories place profit over human life our food supply will always be tainted. As long as the workers who grow, produce, and package our food can’t afford to feed their own families, the system will fail.