Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pizza and Politics

The Associated Press wants you to think about a pizza:

So, a guy walks into a restaurant. Who makes sure his food is safe?

It depends on what he eats.

A cheese pizza that arrived at the restaurant frozen? The Food and Drug Administration is in charge of inspecting it.

A frozen pepperoni pizza? That's the Agriculture Department.

A fresh pizza, made at the restaurant? Both departments would be responsible for the original ingredients, if the pizza has meat on it. What if he eats eggs? It depends whether the eggs are inside the shell, in liquid form or have been processed. Fish? Some fish is inspected by the Commerce Department.

The FDA bears the brunt of food safety oversight, a mission called into question in the wake of a massive recall of peanut products. But at least 15 government agencies have a hand in making sure food is safe under at least 30 different laws, some of which date back to the early 1900s.

It's a convoluted system.

"There is no one person, no individual today who is responsible for food safety," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. "We have an immediate crisis which requires a real restructuring."

DeLauro and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., have been proposing an overhaul of the nation's food safety structure for more than a decade. There might now be the political will to do something following the outbreak of salmonella traced to peanuts blamed for sickening 600 people and killing at least nine others.

They may be making headway. President Barack Obama's new agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, said he supports creating a single, combined food safety agency. It's a major break from his predecessors.

"You can't have two systems and be able to reassure people you've got the job covered," Vilsack said.

Right. Right as rain.


sfox said...

I'm about halfway through "The Omnivore's Dilemma". Sobering.

PBurns said...

I have a very positive review of the book on the blog. That said, what Michael Pollan knows about sustainability is pretty close to zero, and the omission of a discussion of that in his book is a BIG omission. The world cannot live on backyard gardens and backyard chickens and grass fed beef, and hunting feral pig. I am all for those, but they are nicety, and not a necessity. In world of 6.2 billion people (and growing), we have created an unbridled need for industrial agriculture. You cannot pull up corn and soy, and plant pumpkins and squash, bell peppers, and green beans because we do not have a labor pool to harvest those crops, nor do they store well as commodities. Nor do we have enought wildlife or wild places to hunt and gather. It all comes down to too many people.


Rocambole said...

Um, Patrick, winter squash keeps really, really well. I have a Jarradale pumpkin on my shelf right now that I grew in 2008 and it's doing great.

I couldn't go to Pennsylvania Association of Sustainble Agriculture conference this year, but if you're interested, I'll see if I can get the PA Horticultural Society to sponsor us both to go next year. I think you'll find some very thoughtful people who are really trying to make sustainable ag work.

Grain is always going to need acerage, but urban ag in the "industrial" world and helping subsitance growers in the "third" world close the gap to pretty much nothing.

I've been in sustainable ag for nearly 25 years. While plants WANT to grow, there really is talent and knowledge in putting together a ecosystem that can feed everyone that needs to be fed and keep the system healthy into the future -- and making a profit.

Unfortunatly, the funding base from USDA just hasn't been there which is why those of us in the biz push attra.org (the only branch of USDA that does research and puts it all together) and are really hammering the current administration to increase the research and throw open the information.

Not everyone should have to read Steiner in 19th century German to understand nutrient cycling in an agricultural system (my PA Dutch relatives say Steiner has no style, so everyone makes Don Yoder, the Groundhog Day book author, read the original when someone has to -- the perils of being a German dialect scholar! ;-)) Steiner was nuttier than a fruitcake in almost all other aspects of his life, but he GOT nutrient cycling.

However, why the heck is he STILL the standard? You've got Dr. Ray Weil at the University of Maryland and Elaine Ingram (UC Davis now?) and who else?


retrieverman said...

Then we can eat peanut butter.