Food Safety

September 10, 2008

September 10, 2008

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the Renewable Fuels Association, Wal-Mart Stores, Monsanto, and John Deere. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

For a long time, we have been hearing the screams of anguish from consumer organizations and politicians (especially the politicians) demanding that the goverrunent fix the food safety problem.

I am here to say, yes, we can do a better job, and we should. However, to fix the problem will not be easy or cheap, and there will be some casualties.

It is worth taking a look at a produce terminal market. I have visited these markets. Small growers and large growers deliver their produce in pick-up trucks. Tons of produce is sold every day. Move it fast while it's fresh before it spoils. Some produce markets are huge -- acres and acres in size with all levels of produce on display -- peppers, mangoes, lettuce, spinach, watermelons, tomatoes, and more. Sometimes, product from different growers can be co-mingled. Produce from different countries is co-mingled. Distributors are selling. Buyers are buying. Some times on credit; sometimes with cash. Some buyers require records for traceability. Others don't. They don't have time. It costs too much money to handle all that paperwork. It is a madhouse.

Improving traceability is going to cost the consumer. It won't be free. I said there will be some casualties. Small producers may not be able to compete. Already, some distributors are buying direct from big produce farms, leaving the small pick-up truck suppliers out in the cold.

Think about the small farmer markets that we're familiar with. How much paperwork will they put up with? I was in my local supermarket last week. They featured tomatoes, melons, peaches, and other produce "locally grown." Can all this be traced? Maybe.

The fact is we have the safest food supply in the world. We need to do a better job of improving traceability. The salmonella tomato problem this summer cost tomato growers millions and they now believe the problem wasn't even a tomato but a pepper.

Our food safety system is not perfect. In fact, it never will be. Let me ask, do you get up in the morning worrying that you won't be able to find any safe food to eat? I didn't think so.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.