First the spinach, now the lettuce. What have our leafy greens come to? Or more specifically, what have our Central California leafy greens come to?
The LA Times article talks about the contributing environmental factors that are likely leading to the contamination: proximity to wildlife, proximity to and run-off from farming and ranching/race-horse operations, some field conditions. These things are the same that were highlighted by the spinach outbreaks, and quite naturally, given the timeframe, there’s not much that could be expected to be done. And in fact, the chief medical officer for the FDA, David Acheson, basically said as much back when the spinach ban was lifted: that without fundamental fixes put in place in the areas causing the contamination, these are just going to keep happening.
So what about these fundamental fixes? This is a public health issue, impacting people across the nation (and perhaps the world, depending on where the farm produce is being shipped). One’d think that legislature would be getting involved, public health officials… oh. Voluntary labeling, industry-led initiatives, and a state-based seal of approval for guidelines that don’t exist yet.
Of course, the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California would like you to believe market forces – pressure from retailers and consumers – will force handlers and growers to adhere to these voluntary (ie not mandatory) guidelines, but the director of food safety for the Center for Science in the Public Interest fires back, saying “voluntary systems haven’t proven terribly effective in ensuring food safety uniformly. Certainly some growers are going to utilize the very best standards. But growers who don’t will still be able to sell their products, and probably sell them cheaper.”
Of course, much of this could be eliminated if people started eating seasonally, locally, organically and sustainably. New Yorkers shouldn’t be eating California lettuce, but New York lettuce. (And likewise for other states.) Almost all foods have a natural season – maybe it’s time we start paying attention to that, and accept that if we don’t have fancy greenhouses in our backyard, and don’t live in Southern California, it means that sometimes, we won’t be able to have th foods we want to eat. Seems like the price is just starting to get too high, otherwise.