State of Science :: Environment
Habitat Destruction Driven by Misguided Efforts to Promote Food Safety
Author(s): Commentary by Chuck Benbrook
Photos by the Wild Farm Alliance
The Wild Farm Alliance has compiled a shocking series of photographs that capture the tragic events unfolding in and around California's Salinas Valley in the name of food safety.
It takes no more than five minutes to look at the series of photos in the file posted below. Warning -- these pictures will leave you outraged and saddened.
It is beyond tragic that food buyers, and the various inspectors and auditing companies working on their behalf, are purposefully mandating the erosion of diversity and vitality in such an important agricultural landscape, and are doing so without any evidence that the changes being forced upon farmers will do a bit of good.
In fact, the changes will most likely erode food safety, rather than promoting it. The Center's June 2007 report "Unfinished Business: Preventing E. coli O157 Outbreaks in Leafy Greens" traced the source of the September 2006 outbreak to bacteria-laden dust blown off a large cattle pasture just to the north (upwind) of the block of spinach that triggered the outbreak. Quietly since last summer the "dust hypothesis" has become accepted as the most plausible explanation of how the E. coli from the pasture got onto the spinach that caused the outbreak.
The field observations and research of many scientists, conservationists, government agencies, and farmers have discounted to near-zero the possibility that feral pigs or any other wild animals had anything to do with this outbreak, yet across the Salinas Valley, farmers are being told to get rid of any vegetation or habitat that might harbor life forms above bacteria. To keep their market, most farmers are complying.
They are tearing out riparian areas, shrubs, trees and other bird and beneficial insect habitat, leaving just bare earth and bacteria. As these newly cleared areas dry out this summer, dust will blow off of them right onto the production fields, in some cases carrying bacteria.
The Western Growers Association, food companies, and farm leaders have pledged to base all leafy green "good agricultural practices" on sound science and contemporary research on the causes of E. coli outbreaks in leafy greens.
By allowing a scorched-earth policy to be inflicted upon farmers, they have done just the opposite. It is time for the leaders in the leafy green industry, and the retail sector, to stop this monumental tragedy before any more harm is done.
Thanks to the Wild Farm Alliance for putting together such a compelling series of pictures. Please take a few minutes to look at them and reflect on what is being lost.