Tainted Food Causes Lasting Damage

In the wake of a series of food recalls, most recently a Colorado cantaloupe recall, some agricultural officials are rethinking food safety regulations. While the most immediate beneficiary of a stricter regulatory processes are consumers, the health and safety of the agricultural industry as a whole is also a major factor driving tougher standards.

The damage done to farmers’ reputations may not be as tangible as the illnesses and deaths caused by tainted food, but it can cause significant and lasting damage to growers.

In the Salinas Valley of California, for example, the leafy greens industry is still struggling to recover from a 2006 E. coli outbreak. The outbreak of E. coli in Salinas spinach killed three people, sickened 206, and dominated national news for months.

While farmers reacted swiftly, retooling growing, planting, and packaging guidelines and creating an industry pact on strategies to protect various leafy greens grown in the state, a pact that is being hailed nationwide, they are still suffering from the damage done to their reputations.

Food and retail chains, for example, are much stricter about the quality of the product they buy. Some food chains even send unannounced inspectors to Salinas farms in order to guarantee that quality control measures are being followed. This increased public scrutiny has had an effect. Spinach production in Monterrey County, for example, has decreased by about $62 million.

Some Colorado cantaloupe farmers are hoping to imitate some of the Salinas safety regulations. Many ag officials there have suggested creating new industry guidelines and have proposed toughening up the inspection process. However, many cantaloupe farmers have suspended their melon planting, hoping to shift to other crops until the worst of the public furor has died down.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer