iSPY something to do in Washtenaw County
July 23, 2011 9:19 pm

Adventures in Food #3

Infinite Green Tomatoes

by Stefanie T. Stauffer

Ok. So last time we spoke about the Food Safety Modernization Act (S510) and how its passage will have adetrimental impact on the local economy, environment, and our health (not to mention on the food system itself). Specifically, we saw that although industrial food production is a root cause of the rampant food-borne illness outbreaks this legislation aims to fight, S510 will actually result in more industrialized agriculture. But how did industrial agriculture become so dominant in the first place that our eating habits and purchases continue to expand its power largely without our knowledge?

Is it the convenience of being able to eat the same food all year? Is it the low sticker prices that make us think we are getting a great deal regardless of the many hidden production costs involved? Personally, I think it’s a stretch to think that consumer demand is driving industrial food production. While working in food service, I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard someone order a sandwich with ‘no tomato’, so I doubt that industrial agriculture is expanding simply because people have a strange urge to eat tomatoes in February (when they taste nowhere near as good). Therefore, it seems to me that the problem of industrial agriculture starts with the supply. In other words, we don’t necessarily want to eat tomatoes that were picked green and shipped from greenhouses in the California desert, yet they are universally available in restaurants and grocery stores so we do anyways.

The result is that now we feel like we have to buy those products, those unripe tomatoes, whether we really want them or not. In this sense then, the all-pervasive fear of food that inspired legislation like S510 has also convinced us that even though industrially-produced food is not desirable, it is the only kind available. And this cultivated dependency may be a reason why the government has recently been able to pass legislation that enables giant industrial growing operations to dramatically increase profit margins while organic growers and producers fight to stay in business.

The most recent example of such legislation is the USDA’s decision on January 31st to completely deregulate the use of Monsanto’s Genetically-Engineered “Round-up Ready alfalfa.” Since alfalfa is the 3rd most valuable and 4th largest crop in the US, and since it can easily cross-pollinate with plants in neighboring fields and contaminate them with non-organic, GE alfalfa, this move has been fiercely criticized by the Organic Consumers Association, the Ecological Farming Association, organic dairy producers, and many others. In particular, these critics point out that not only does the decision jeopardize the existence of the organic dairy and organic meat industries, but that is also unnecessary,  as 93% of US alfalfa growers don’t even use herbicides. In fact, Michael Pollan described the decision as a “bad solution to a problem that doesn’t exist”.

Thus, if we’re serious about both retaining and even expanding access to delicious, healthy and sustainably-produced food for ourselves, families, and communities, we need to voice our concerns that S510 and the USDA’s deregulation of GE ‘Round-up Ready alfalfa’ will further impede our personal access to organic, locally produced food. As it stands now, only slightly over 3% of US agriculture is organic, so we clearly don’t need more anonymous factory farms producing ingredients that make people sick. Instead, we need more vibrant local producers and thriving local food businesses to challenge the assumption that industrial agriculture is the only agriculture—especially in these rough economic times. After all, it’s the only way food will taste good in the future.

If you’d like to know more about Monsanto’s GE “Round-up Ready” alfalfa and its potential impact on the organic dairy industry, the environment, and health,

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