Nosestretcher alert: small farms produce safest food?

This article appeared in today’s BarfBlog and pertains to emerging food safety perceptions, particularly those heralding the safety of products from small farms.  Dr. Doug, the article’s author, points out that concept that these products are “safer” is really only a product of “wishful thinking” (I agree).  Right now we lack scientific evidence to support or refute this, and thus this is solely faith-based.

Knowing your farmer helps you know about your food, yes.  Where it came from, how it was raised, and related points — all are things more and more people want to know about their food. Yes, it can local economy. I’m quite supportive of helping small farmers increase their bottom line.  I am also supportive of farmers producing foods for direct-sales have sufficient liability coverage, because there is no “guarantee” that their food is “safe.”  This is especially true if the farm has no requirement to meet any level of production and processing standards.  Considering this “safer-by-scale” only is a food-unsafe mindset.

The idea of such a comparative database is outstanding!  I, too, have thought about establishing some data that relates to this topic.  Awesome.

As for my specific experiences and concerns with this: I deal with meat — beef, pork, lamb — and I am constantly faced with the idea that somehow knowing the farmer, he or she can help ensure meat safety.  Well, 1) usually the farmer has zero to do with the process of turning the cow, pig or sheep into beef, pork or lamb, and 2) prevention of pathogenic bacteria has very little to do with the farmer (yes, this includes grassfed-only farms).  I deal with quite a few independent butchers.  They’re essential to local meat meat production and have more to do with meat safety than the farmer.

Quick, related aside:  You know, there are countless “new farmer” programs — everything is farmer, farmer, farmer. Why no “new butcher” programs? (Of course, there are a lot of “Rock Star” butchers, most of whom operate shops that buy sides of meat from somewhere, the slaughter having been done by someone else…  The slaughter(wo)men need a name indicative of being more than a “Rock Star” – Suggestions? [OK. Done for now.]

BTW – I’ve added all the “stuff” in red below.

Nosestretcher alert: small farms produce safest food?


Are small farms incompatible with food safety rules?

Deborah Stockton, executive director of the National Independent Consumers and Farmers Association (NICFA), said today, “Small farms produce the safest food available, without regulation. … Just like family farms brought us out of the Great Depression, they can bring us out of the food safety problem and this recession, if they are allowed to thrive.”  (<– maybe? they can bring us out of this “problem” if they have some food safety rules to follow.  Otherwise, they could be making it worse.)

Sounds like someone is compensating for inadequacy issues and responding with exaggeration, like a 50-year-old in a Miata rag-top.

The idea that food grown and consumed locally is somehow safer than other food, either because it contacts fewer hands or any outbreaks would be contained, is the product of wishful thinking (<– just wish bacteria away).

Maybe the majority of foodborne outbreaks come from large farms because the vast majority of food and meals is consumed from food produced on large farms (emphasis added). To accurately compare local and other food, a database would have to somehow be constructed so that a comparison of illnesses on a per capita meal or even ingredient basis could be made.

NICFA is gonna lobby Washington, D.C. types and then hold a local foods feast for Congress tomorrow night. I hope no one gets sick – faith-based food safety is a lousy approach. (<– yes, lousy)



6 thoughts on “Nosestretcher alert: small farms produce safest food?

  1. This reminds me of a foodservice show I attended recently where a major food processor was leading a seminar entitled something like, “can we be safe and local?” This led me to believe that the giant processor whose company has a patented high-tech 5 step food safety protocol system in place will argue that if you go with the “small guys” you may not be as assured of your food’s safety.

    The big guy’s argument makes sense from a liability standpoint. But their produce is “value-added” meaning that it has already been cleaned and is ready to consume without further processing and that’s what scares me about this “war” or pissing match (Miada/Miata in spanish) going on between “big” and “small” ag.

    Like the produce processor I mentioned, all agriculture could become so “safe” and traceable that all fresh foods could reach the point where every portion of lettuce, beef, fish or chicken will processed and packaged for immediate consumption or straight to the oven–maybe without even having to take it out of the package.

    This may sound a little whacky but from a liability/traceability and inspection standpoint think about how easy everyone’s job would be once that product leaves the plant?

    So, maybe it is a war between those who want to control all of our food system and those who want to preserve the idea of growing and selling “fresh” food. I’d like to think that both systems will continue to develop in their own ways, will learn from eachother and I won’t dwell on which one is better for everyone else.

  2. Those are good points, Art, and I agree, that there are elements of truth presented from both “sides.”

    I don’t think your suggestion/link between traceability and liability is whacky at all. (To be honest, I think that is partly the reason for some people/groups not wanting NAIS.)

  3. Chris, I believe you just became a ROCK STAR 🙂

    Awesome! Love! Long live the power of the slaughter men & women!! 🙂

    • Amy — Long live slaughter. Um. OK.
      I’ve yet to determine what can bring you and @ProteinSlayer to a status greater than that of “Rock Star.”

  4. Full disclosure: I am a chef with almost 30 years experience who has also taught, among other subjects, food science at CIA. I now work at Hendricks Farms and Dairy in Telford, Pa. My primary job involves butchering our cattle, lambs and occasionally hogs after they are slaughtered at a USDA licensed slaughter house. In addition to making retail cuts I make sausage, dry and wet cured products such as prosciutto secco (Parma style ham) salami and several types of bacon. We are licensed as a raw milk dairy by the Pa Dept of Agriculture.

    I could not agree more with the thesis of this post. There is no reason to believe that merely knowing the person who produces your food makes it less likely that he will make you sick.

    The public should be leery of buying food that is meant to be ingested without cooking from anyone who is not properly permitted and trained in the technical aspects of producing food for public consumption. After so many years of working with students and other inadequately trained “cooks,” I am painfully aware of the potential for disaster when a poorly regulated food service operation is allowed to produce and sell to the public. Some of the worst offenses to safe food handling practices I’ve seen have been perpetrated by seasoned “home” cooks who decided that they would turn their cooking skills into cash. Of course, these are just the kind of people one expects to find preparing food in Mom and Pop businesses like “on farm” retail operations.
    The sanitation skills one uses in the home, do not scale up well in commercial kitchens.
    I suppose the notion that knowing the person who grows your food assures that your food will be safer to eat should be amended to read

    Buying local from a farmer you know is probably safe when the farmer has all the necessary permits, has Serve Safe certification, has filed a HACCP plan and doesn’t become apoplectic if you mention NAIS.


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