Public hearings always amaze and amuse in how issues can be so widely (and wildly) interpreted.
Denise Morse, Sahuarita, Ariz., was at the USDA-Agricultural Marketing Service’s National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement hearing in Yuma, Ariz., in October to testify “just a consumer, not an expert.” Morse had read about the leafy green vegetable proposal in the Federal Register.
Morse cited a recent USDA news release where Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack encouraged consumers to get to know their food and farmer. It was obvious she had daggers ready to throw at large “corporate” farmers. She was there to advocate for small, organic growers. The NLGMA proposal, Morse said, “conflicted” with Vilsack’s directive.
“The (NLGMA) proposal seems to be about large companies making more money instead of food safety,” Morse stated. “This could be the Trojan horse that could put some smaller growers out of business ... If the agreement hurts small growers,” the former Californian said, “It will hurt my family.”
Morse identified her local leafy green grower as “Farmer Jack” who grows produce on 40 acres in southern Arizona. His pesticide-free produce is healthier, she touted.
Morse was quizzed about her comments by USDA-Agricultural Marketing Service staffers who led the hearing. AMS deserves mega kudos for holding each person in the testimony chair accountable for statements, including Morse. Morse said her leafy greens are safe because Farmer Jack told her so. AMS asked Morse if the farmer’s words were enough to assure her unequivocally that the food was safe. Morse said yes.
Morse’s assessment is naive and clearly illustrates how clueless many people are about agriculture and food safety. The issue is not about ‘big, bad factory farms’ versus ‘little ol Farmer Jack.’ The real issue is about growers, handlers, and manufacturers of all sizes following science-based guidelines (metrics) to ensure that the entire food system is safe for consumers while also protecting the major financial investments of farm families regardless of acreage amounts.
This whole ‘buy locally-grown food; organic is better’ mantra (craze) is really about today’s disconnect from the farm. For many younger adults their great grandpas and grandmas with dirt-under-the-fingernails experience (pre-mechanization) have long passed to the great Golden Silo in the sky.
People now crave a tie to agriculture, to know a farmer, and relive their family’s agricultural heritage. I resent the opinions that large farmers are evil, pesticides are unhealthy for my family, and that all small farmers are 100 percent Honest Abes. There are a few bad apples in every bunch.
It is admirable that Morse was willing to speak her mind and care about her food supply, but the blinders must be removed. The proposed NLGMA is designed first and foremost to protect consumers’ food supply. The agreement creates a level-playing field. The included checks-and-balances system is based on the latest proven scientific research, not what someone says is fact.
The U.S. still has the safest food supply in the world. Food safety breakdowns will occur since farm fields lack a controlled atmosphere (four walls, a ceiling, and floor) to keep the bad culprits at bay. In my book all farmers are “MY” farmers. Morse should thank each farmer, including Farmer Jack.
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