How far should farmers go to ensure that consumers get their salad in a bag? According to an Associated Press article Calif. farmers use guns, poison to protect crops, some farmers are using some extreme, possibly unnecessary practices to keep E.coli and other bacteria out of their fields of greens.
It’s understandable that farmers would want to make sure that deadly contaminants do not taint their crops given that in 2006 three people were killed and about 200 others became ill after eating fresh spinach contaminated with E.coli. That scare ended up costing California spinach growers about $80 million in sales that year.
One of the possible causes for the 2006 deadly outbreak could have been wildlife such as deer or wild pigs who defecated near crops, although the exact cause was never determined. In response to the outbreak, the farmers, the packers, and the shippers created new standards to help head off another contamination outbreak. According to the report, however, none of the standards directly related to wildlife. Many farmers, however, aren’t taking any chances at losing their crops so they are taking measures way beyond the new standards. Measures like:
- taking gun-safety classes to safely shoot animals that could carry bacteria
- removing natural habitat, in hopes of keeping wildlife away, by uprooting native trees and plants
- poisoning frogs that may carry salmonella on their feet who can get caught in harvesting machinery
- trapping wildlife
- fencing in their crops to keep wildlife out
The article explains that many growers have been given requests by corporate food-safety auditors to take some of these measures, although there is no proof that any of these measures will make a difference. Some of the companies that buy the greens and then package them in the convenient salad bags, also are requiring growers to go beyond new standards or they won’t purchase the produce.
I can certainly relate to the farmers wanting to protect their crops. As I related in my post Sustainability, the First Time Organic Garden and Carl Spackler, I’ve had my own trials with wildlife this year. At one point or other, I contemplated doing most of the things that the California farmers have done. In the end, I’ve gone to some ridiculous lengths to keep the critters out, but I have kept it sustainable. I do realize, though, that the problems I face in my 10′ x 15′ back yard garden cannot compare with the problems that these farmers will face if their crops become contaminated with e.Coli, salmonella, or some other harmful bacteria.
So how far should they go to protect their crops? To protect their livelihood?
With the exception of fencing in the crops to keep the wildlife out, none of the things the farmers are doing seem to be environmentally friendly options. Removing natural habitat and poisoning animals are downright unsustainable.
The answer is, of course, never easy. What do you think?
- Are these farmers justified?
- Are all of their practices wrong, or just some of them?
- Why the heck are we eating salad in a bag anway? (Seriously, have you ever actually finished an entire bag of salad before it went bad?)
- Is this just another symptom of one of our out of whack food habits – our need to have all types of produce on our grocer’s shelves every day of the year regardless of where it was grown or how far it traveled to get there?
- Ew, frogs get caught in the harvesting machinery?
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
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Knowing that the deer population out west routinely needs thinning, I think that it is a good idea for game hunters to improve their marksmanship. There is no need for a poor shot to inflict prolonged suffering on a dumb animal. I also have no real problem with poisoning frogs. In fact, if anyone can tell me where to get such a product, I would not hesitate to use it to get rid of the hundreds of green tree frogs that congregate around the environmentally friendly flourescent flood lights on my house. And was it not Frost who penned, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Some neighbors – and nuisance animals – require borders.
Lastly, most of these measures would not be necessary if the products were irradiated after packaging. I know that the nuclear option scares the heck out of you greens, but it works. The ill effects of irradiation that get cited are speculative at best, and even if they hold true, I would rather have safer food today and risk some incurrable disease caused by irradiation when I hit the century mark.