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Corporate E. Coli

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The latest string of E. Coli outbreaks should raise serious questions about the vulnerability of our country's food supply. While most public health officials blame the cases on a violent strain of noxious bacteria, the corporate food industry continues to evade its due scrutiny.

Indeed our corporate dominated food system is the real culprit in dispersing infected spinach across the country. As of this writing the Food and Drug Administration is still tracing the origins of the most recent E. Coli epidemic, which has killed one person and sickened over a hundred more. The FDA's task isn't an easy one. The path America's food travels from field to plate, is a long, unstable journey. Not only does our food often voyage hundreds upon hundreds of miles before it reaches our grocery store shelves, it also passes through dozens of different hands along the way.

The fact that people in New York are getting sick from spinach allegedly grown in California should be telling enough of our unsustainable consumer habits, as well as the inherent problems of our commercialized food industry. Corporate giants like Phillip Morris and General Mills have driven out small independent farmers. The food we eat is no longer grown close to home. If it were, the most recent E. Coli scare would not be as widespread or as difficult to rein in.

Natural Selection Foods LLC of California is currently thought to be the originator of last week's E. Coli eruption. Natural Selection produces spinach that is packaged by Earthbound Organics, Dole, Green Harvest, Rave Spinach, Ready Pac, Trader Joe's, among others. With such a widespread distribution it's not hard to understand why so many people in so many different states have fallen ill.

But Big Food is big business. Controlling the market is profitable, even if it puts consumers and the environment at risk. Especially if it puts us all at risk. And there really are no good guys at the top of our corporate food chain. Even if they are organic producers like Natural Selection Foods, which operates 24,000 acres of certified organic farms in California, Arizona, Colorado, Washington as well as Mexico and New Zealand. And believe me, they aren't in it to provide us with healthy organic food: they are in it to make money and lots of it. In 2005 alone Natural Selection Foods had revenue of almost 250 million dollars.

Perhaps this could serve as a wakeup call. Our corporate food industry is not sustainable. It's vulnerable. Easy to be infiltrated and too expansive to oversee. The time is now for us to turn away from corporate food and toward local food. Find your town's food co-operative (if there isn't one, start one) and ask where the local products are kept. Visit your area farmer's market and purchase vegetables and fruit grown by growers in your region. Not only will this help build community, it will also help ensure that future outbreaks of E. Coli (or something even more deadly) won't find its way onto your dinner table with such ease.

 

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Joshua Frank is co-editor of Dissident Voice and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of the brand new book Red State (more...)
 
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