05 October 2007

As If We Needed Another Reason to Buy Local Food

We buy all our beef from two local suppliers, both of whom we know by name. One is a family from our parish that has been farming here for decades; the other is a larger cattleman in the next county over. Neither producer uses antibiotics or hormones. Both operations involve direct sales to the end consumers, usually by contracting ahead of time for a quarter / half / whole beef. It's slightly more expensive than what you get at the grocery store, and it requires pre-planning (not to mention a large freezer), but it's not only the most wholesome meat we've ever had --- it's also the most delicious.

When things are done on a small scale, with care, by a producer who knows his customer, you don't get situations developing like the following:

On Sept. 25, the United States Department of Agriculture announced a recall of frozen hamburger patties from Topps, saying that the meat was potentially tainted by E. coli bacteria. Officials at the agency conceded that they knew that meat from Topps was contaminated on Sept. 7, when the first positive test results for E. coli came back.

Health officials say the first reported case of sickness linked to the 0157:H7 strain of E. coli found in the Topps meat occurred on July 5, when an 18-year-old girl in central Pennsylvania fell ill. Three days later, another case was reported in New Jersey.

Other cases have been reported in Connecticut, Maine, Florida, Indiana, Ohio and New York.

But I thought this line from the story was the most telling:

“This is tragic for all concerned,” Mr. D’Urso said in a statement. “In one week we have gone from the largest U.S. manufacturer of frozen hamburgers to a company that cannot overcome the economic reality of a recall this large.”

I don't want to rub salt in Topps' wounds, but this sort of contamination always seems to strike the enormous mega-processors. And as that spinach recall from last summer showed, this isn't even a question of the product being "organic" or not --- the issue is with producers and processors so large as to surpass a human scale. When food becomes a commodity, and producer is alienated from consumer by so many degrees of separation, such tragedies seem nearly inevitable.

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