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Good is Bad? Disinformation and Healthy Food

A news story today asserts that “Healthy Foods Carry Hidden Dangers,” pointing out that foods like leafy greens can be dangerous, harboring E.Coli and other nastiness. Listing the top ten foods identified in a study by the Center for Science and the Public
Interest, the story ratchets up the food hysteria a bit. One might think that for optimum health, we should just avoid these foods.
Unfortunately, the problem is NOT the food… or even our food safety inspection system in the first instance — but the food production system. That’s right folks, it’s the food industry that mostly churns out food with a zeal for its primary goal (you guessed it – profits) that overshadows annoying concerns like sound practices that could prevent illness.
And another thing. Did you know that much of our fresh produce comes from developing countries where, as Marion Nestle has put it in her great book,
What to Eat, sanitation is so poor that you wouldn’t even want to brush your teeth with the water much less get your food grown with it? Let’s not even get into “night soil” (hint: fields are bootleg toilets).
As it stands now, the FDA’s GAPs (Good Agricultural Practices) and GMPs (Good Manufacturing Practices) are mere suggestions that food companies are free to ignore despite the fact that they are linked with reduction in food-borne illness. Guess what? It’s far more cost-effective to deal with some sickpeople after the fact than actually do the right thing.
Can you imagine if we had a traffic system where we merely suggested folks stop at red lights or a medical system where it was simply a guideline that surgical tools be sterilized? If the food industry had to suck up liability for failure to follow sound practices, you can be darn sure they’d do it whether or not there were teams of inspectors. Gets back to the dollar flow again.
Here’s a thought. Rather than scare people into avoiding greens and sprouts, maybe the media should offer up a bit more education? Whether or not the government steps in and grows sufficient spinal mass to stand up to the food industry, public education can go along way to push change from the roots up. If companies are pressured by eaters to change their practices since consumers have woken up to what’s really going on with the food supply, they’ll make sure the food they sell us is safer. That’s bottom line change.