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“Big Ag Did It!”

September 27, 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf I had a dollar for every time I saw this I’d not only have a farm many times bigger than goal but could feed a small town with what’s produced from it.

Look at raw milk arguments, for example, and it’s “Big ag” that is the reason farmers are being harassed for selling raw milk. “Just leave us alone and let us buy what we want!”

Guess what folks – it didn’t happen overnight! And wait until your entire food supply is that way. The only choice you will have is grow it yourself (because you can’t sue yourself!) or from a large farm with processor that can afford new and constantly upgraded equipment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFood safety is something that we all are concerned about. We’re looking at vaccinating chicks to further reduce the chances of layers with salmonella in the eggs. We do take food safety measures, but do not test. We keep track as much as possible of what’s going on in the gardens.

So while people are demanding food choices every one better be lining up in protest right now. But I know they won’t be because we love to heap out shoulds. This morning a story in the New York Times shows another disturbing trend.

DENVER — The owners of a Colorado cantaloupe farm were arrested on Thursday on charges stemming from a 2011 listeria epidemic that killed 33 people in one of the nation’s deadliest outbreaks of food-borne illness.

Federal prosecutors said the owners, the brothers Eric and Ryan Jensen, were arrested on misdemeanor charges of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce. The Jensens’ lawyer did not immediately return a call seeking comment.


It’s horrible that anyone gets sick from food. The loss of a family member is permanent and there is no way to make up for that. That it can happen from food makes us question where our food has been before we got it. It makes us strive to have that transparency available to tell people where and how their food was produced.

When we pick produce it goes inside. We don’t wash it, although some do for reasons of food safety. Like most farms, we sometimes have to buy used equipment because it’s all we can afford.

Eric Jensen, 37, and Ryan Jensen, 33, operated their farm in southeastern Colorado. The farm filed for bankruptcy after the outbreak.

The F.D.A. said Jensen Farms bought the used processing equipment just before the outbreak, and it was corroded and dirty. Also, the packing facility floors were difficult to clean, so pools of water potentially harboring the bacteria formed close to the packing equipment, the agency said. Another possible source of contamination was a truck that frequently hauled cantaloupe to a cattle operation and was parked near the packing house.


So these farmers were arrested for *POSSIBLE* and *POTENTIALLY* – it might have also been roaming dogs, coyotes or many other things. We can’t sterilize everything, although many claim the soil is sterile so this shouldn’t have happened. Any food issue is serious but listeria can be deadly.

Now I’ve never been to the farm in question – but this should raise the eyebrows of everyone who supports food choices. Listeria is serious – no minimizing it! In many cases of raw dairy actions, listeria is the reason. People say they should choose (we agree!) but when they do and illness follows, lawsuits will happen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd, like so many times before, folks it’s not “big ag” as the evil predator hunting down and eliminating farms. A bigger farm didn’t set in motion the actions leading to bankruptcy and arrest of the Jensens.

Lawsuits, legal issues, increasing regulation. The larger farms with the benefit of better funding may well benefit from it. But let’s put the chain of blame where it belongs.

The farm had contaminated melons that were shipped to many states. They don’t glow neon when contaminated – so who bears testing? The farm? The grocery store? The consumer?

We all want our food to be safe. Hopefully all realize there is a risk, and their actions in food safety make a difference too. When we have food going out to customers we want it not just healthy and tasty but safe. We strive for that at every step.

But no farm, large or small, is perfect. Farms aren’t sterile. Trucks aren’t sterile. Food isn’t sterile. Indeed, many don’t want food sprayed with anything to reduce the risk of contamination.

So how exactly do any of us cover all the bases to 100%?

We can’t. The striving for it means products at risk of contamination – including dairy – are not allowed to be sold. But that’s not “big ag” – it’s food safety people demanding it. And that’s all of us.

Do it or we’ll sue. Many small places can’t afford that risk. And it’s not the fault of larger farms, who have the same concerns.

So how does agriculture – of all sizes – do the impossible? How do we get to 100% food safety? You could grow everything yourself – which many don’t want to do.

Unfortunately, the balance of food safety and food choices is not going to come out even. It’s not going to be fair for all and it’s not going to allow unfettered survival of the other. Every law suit is a vote for food safety over food choices.

As much as we strive for food safety, don’t blame “big ag”.

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