The difference between an agricultural system that raises food solely for profit and one that supports food quality for health became starkly clear from a statement in the Los Angeles Times about the highly unusual news of twin listeria outbreaks.
Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Tennessee more or less shrugs off public alarm:
The incidents are troubling, but Schaffner said the public needed to be realistic about food safety. "Our expected standards of food safety are so high," he said in an interview with The Times. "But we have to recognize that vegetables that are grown in the field, openly, will from time to time become contaminated with animal waste," which is one of the most common sources of such an outbreak. "Our lettuce, chicken, meat is not 'sterile,' and that is an unwarranted expectation. From time to time, we will find some contaminated food stuff.... The world is not a sterile place. It's actually quite germy."
And if some folks don't think the food safety efforts have been aggressive enough, they should be prepared to reach into their pockets for such a service. "If that's what we want, an excellent food safety public health structure in every state ... you have to pay for it."
Contrast this with the sentiments of a small-town mayor in France's Provence region when he mandates organic food for the school lunch program:
"It's for the children. Nothing is too good for the children."
This scene was noteworthy in a film by Jean-Paul Jaud in Barjac, France, "Nos Enfants Nous Accuseronts" (Our Children Will Accuse Us). It follows an experiment when the town's mayor decides to make the school lunch menu organic, with much of the food grown locally.
He argues that unless we act now to change industrial models of agricultural production that rely on petro-chemical fertilizers and insecticides, our children will be condemned to rapidly deteriorating health in the form of cancers, infertility and other illnesses linked to environmental factors.
Re-titled Food Beware: The French Organic Revolution for English-speaking audiences, the documentary film features interviews with children, parents, teachers, health care workers, journalists, farmers, elected officials, scientists and researchers. It illuminates both the challenges and the rewards of their commitment to clean food - both the abuses of industry as well as the practical solutions at hand. What will it take to save our health?
Consider also the French government's move to promote healthy eating by banning ketchup in school and college cafeterias nationwide except on the days they serve hamburgers and French fries.
“France must be an example to the world in the quality of its food, starting with its children,” said Food and Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire.
Now we know that the European Union is not free of contaminated food based on a deadly strain of e coli isolated to German-grown bean sprouts earlier this year. But the attitude toward protection of the food system - and the priority of public safety over profit - is markedly different.
France, and the European Union, lead the USA by light years in standards that protect the food system.
- EU banned genetically modified food 12 years ago.
- In 1989, EU banned on hormone-treated U. S. meat, preventing U. S. meat products from being sold in any European nations. It is considered unhealthy.
- EU banned the feeding of all antibiotics and related drugs to livestock for growth promotion purposes in 2006. Keeping antibiotics out of animal feed in the first place is the best way to limit the development of antibiotic resistance and keep antibiotics working in humans.
These are people and a governmental system that is ready to say that clean food is not a luxury but a necessity. And they are doing something about it.
Viva la difference!