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Fear and Uncertainty on Food Supply

Reported by Chrish - September 19, 2006 -

A segment on The Big Story today 9/19/06 focused on the outbreak of E Coli attributed to fresh spinach, which has resulted so far in at least one death and over 100 reported illnesses. Retired Army Colonel Ralph Peters, ever worried, was called upon to comment that this outbreak exposes yet another vulnerability in America (that has yet to be addressed by the Bush administration's Homeland Security Department, who is busy guarding us against yesterday's threats of shampoo and toothpaste on domestic flights.)

Why Peters? I presume it's because he's hawking another book, "Never Quit the Fight, which was plugged at the beginning of the interview."

The vulnerability exposed by this outbreak (and cheerfully exploited by FOX and friends) is that much of our food comes from huge monolithic corporate farms and distribution systems. The "mini-crisis" has highlighted the centralization of food production and distribution systems. This brings up the issue of terrorism (doesn't everything, on FOX?) and the chyrons throughout the segment alternate between "What the spinach scare tells us about the food supply dangers" and "Is our food supply vulnerable to contamination by terrorists?"

Imagine the TV on across the room, volume down, and glancing over occassionally - more fear delivery. They never miss an opportunity to scare the bejeezus out of viewers.

Peters believes a terrorist attack on the food supply chain is unlikely because of the low return (numbers killed), which ignores the fact that the supposed primary goal of terrorists is to terrorize. More worrisome to Peters is the possibility of disruptions in food supplies in the event of a pandemic. In such an event, with quarantines and interstate trucking bans, it could become very difficult to continue to feed everyone.

Gibson wanted to bring the focus back around to the possibility of terrorists causing nationwide contamination, and how this situation has exposed that all one would have to do is contaminate one source. OK, imagine, says Peters, if several dozen crucial nodes in the food supply chain were intentionally hit: not just produce but beef and milk. People would be terrorized, not knowing what's safe to eat. While it doesn't pay to get hysterical and exaggerate this threat, it's something we need to look at soberly.

Comment: Americans expect cheap food and are overall not all that interested in nutrition, quality, or the economics behind what makes their food cheap, hence the popularity and sales at numerous fast food places and discount supermarkets. Not only are the production and distribution systems vulnerable to tampering or other disruption, the mechanics of said production and distribution are environmentally devastating. Think of all the energy used to harvest, pack, refrigerate, and ship food cross-country and it is amazing that anyone can afford to eat at all!

By buying locally produced food whenever possible, less quantity and more quality, we can improve our health, our environment, and our local economies. Check out myfootprint.org to see what kind of impact your lifestyle is having on the planet and to get tips on how you can help make it a healthier place.