Sacramento State Capitol building

Why good domestic agricultural policy is vital

“Oh, gross!”

Those words from a state official after asking if she’d seen the stories about the human feces and toilet paper found in Mexican fields growing cilantro summed my thoughts quite well.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why we have the kinds of laws and oversight we do here in California.

These personal thoughts are in the forefront of my mind after a couple of recent stories I came across, and why I am personally assured when I purchase produce at the local grocery store with labels on it saying “product of the USA” or “California-grown.”

You may have seen the stories. To recap: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned fresh cilantro from Puebla, Mexico after investigators apparently found human feces and toilet paper in the growing fields.

The state official mentioned above was sharing information on a completely separate subject though I just had to ask if her agency was somehow involved in the Mexican cilantro issue. “No” was the short answer.

Separate from the cilantro case, a California DPR press release reports the culmination of inspections that levied large fines after imported produce was discovered to have illegal levels of pesticide residue on them.

In one case, cactus pads from Mexico arrived with detectable residues of an organophosphate-based pesticide banned in the United States more than 30 years ago.

DPR Chief Brian Leahy told this story at a meeting I attended some time ago. As I recall, Leahy used his remarks to point to the kinds of public safety protocols used in California and why we have them.

To Leahy’s credit he is not shy about explaining why California has these regulations. He does an effective job communicating those reasons.

What do these two issues have in common? In short, they illustrate why we must never abdicate U.S. food production to foreign governments. Before you dismiss that thought, think about our national food policy and how it works. Does it help farmers produce crops or make it easier to push production off-shore?

Do we adequately fund agricultural research at public institutions like our land grant universities, or do we cede this research to private companies with fiduciary responsibilities solely to shareholders?

Does public policy make irrigation water a priority for farmers or do we instead promote ideals that divert irrigation water away from American farmers and further force food production overseas?

If food safety is as important to us as we claim, perhaps we should be more eager to close imports until countries can assure us beyond a reasonable doubt that they too have these same concerns in practice and in mind.

At the end of the day, I would think many of these countries need our products much more than we need their agricultural goods.

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