I have a couple of questions I like to ask people when I hear or read the popular comment: “I feed my family the same [insert meat of species] that you purchase in the supermarket.” Really? I think such a statement is disrespectful (though likely not the intention) to the contemporary food system, the same system that means farmers distant from a consumer base can continue to exist in their current form. Often, this message comes from a producer who has enlisted the services of a local butcher to transfer a home-raised farm animal into their home freezer. My questions include:
- How can anyone definitively say it is the same given that there is no mandatory animal and meat traceability system?
- Chances are your local butcher does not use the same technologies as a large-scale abattoir. Is the product still the same? Arguably not.
- You’ve been through a quality assurance certification program. (1) Not every farmer has been through such training and (2) if everyone did the same thing on their farms, what is the point of identifying national award recipients for their quality assurance efforts?
This line of questioning does not stop with farmers making such statements. In general, the individuals that spread such a message are also those who go around telling every consumer they can find that the food they produce is safe and wholesome. Yes, some on-farm practices exist to help ensure food safety. These include responsible use of antibiotics and paying attention to withdrawal periods (and farmers deserve huge credit for addressing that issue during the past 2 decades). On the flip side, those people are typically not the people [unless their processing is somehow exempted and they do all slaughter and cutting in their own facility] who convert living farm animals into food.
There are many challenges in entering animal agriculture, namely capital costs. I wonder how many people would be farming if USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service had on-farm jurisdiction. Should it?
This is intended to just be some food for thought. Often I interact with consumers who exercise “faith-based” food safety beliefs because they simply “know their farmer.” This is important only inasmuch as satisfying one’s personal ethics for raising food animals. I hate to burst your bubble, but when it comes to the popular food safety concerns associated with meat [i.e. E. coli, Salmonella], the most valuable “know your” point is to “know your slaughterhouse and/or butcher.”
As I’ve said before, the contemporary farmer typically had just as much to do with the food on your plate as the lumberjack had to do with the paper towels (toilet paper seems inappropriate here…) on you kitchen counter. OK, so maybe if the lumberjack had something to do with new-growth timber, that’d be a better statement. The point is, there is an entire food system in place between farm and fork, and major players in it are often overlooked.