This morning I woke up and did the farm chores as usual: fed and watered the animals, let the goats, ducks, and chickens out, checked on the baby turkeys to see they had enough water and food, and opened their window for the day. Then I returned to the house and turned on the CBC radio to keep me company, while making my week’s worth of yogurt.
I was shocked to hear that the news is still reporting on the listeria cases (yet another person, this time a baby, has died this week), and alarmed about the latest new food-system-related problem: babies dying from infant formula in China. Concern in Canada is due to the fact that our ‘global food system’ is dependent on imports from China.
So, yet another food scare in the news, again with mortal consequences. What I am most alarmed at is the fact that the CFIA seems to be taking a ‘hand’s off’ approach to both of these cases. In the case of the First Nations baby, they are trying to make it sound as if this case is not related to the previous 17 deaths due to listeria. The tone of the interviewee was that perhaps this death could have been caused by something the mother or caregiver did, while, in the case of the Chinese infant formula, they are ‘doing tests’.
Can we, then, breathe a collective sigh of relief that the CFIA is looking after us? No, and here’s why.
We are not allowed to buy things like local, raw milk or farm gate butchered meat because the CFIA has made it illegal. This means the CFIA knows better than we do and is–thank God– ‘protecting’ us from ourselves. However, when there is a dire problem in their system, suddenly it is ‘buyer beware’. A CFIA representative interviewed on CBC about the listeria crisis actually said, “People have to make sure they know what they are buying.” But the only raison d’etre for the CFIA is to make our food safe for us so that I, the consumer, don’t have to ‘make sure’ (whatever that would entail). Give me the ability to ‘beware’ of my own food, and I will. I’ll walk up the road to my neighbour’s barn and check out the milk he wants to trade with me. Since you prohibit me from doing that, then do your damned job!
The CFIA is trying to have it both ways: it is assuming total control of our food system, and no responsibility for its outcomes.
The Real Problem:
There is still very little discussion about the actual problems of the ‘global food system’ or even the large industrial food system (the likes of which cause the listeria outbreak in Canada). It is time to ask the government to talk about the real problem: the centralized food system. As my friend Suresh says,
It is a system that is dominated by super rich mega corporations, with centralised processing and distribution. This is a system that when some guy in Toronto or down in California goofs up and people in Vancouver can get sick. (Or the other way around, or any place in the world.) In such large scale operations it is impossible to test every package of meat or lettuce that leaves the factory. Inspection is done by means of random sampling. Some package of ground beef or a bag of spinach is bound to slip the scrutiny. There is no point in pointing fingers at the food inspection guys or the meat packaging guys. This food system is open to such bacterial contaminations.
If we had a local food system, then the likes of the above problems would never be as far-reaching as these have been. We wouldn’t have mothers this morning in Canada wondering if they’ve given bad infant formula to their babies. They wouldn’t be spending the next 70 days wondering if their baby, too, will die. If we had a local food system and there were a problem detected, it would be localized and therefore detected sooner. In addition to this, the ability to find the source of the problem would be easier, and the dissemination of the information about the problem to the potential people affected would be quicker, precisely targeted and more thorough.
It is time to think in terms of re-localization of our food systems. It is time to think about de-centralisation. It is time to make local food systems more efficient and economically feasible. It is time to support our rural centers, our local butchers and our family farmers. Let us promote a food inspection system that supports small scale producers and processors, instead of throwing them out of business with regulations that prohibit their growth and development or require major financial inputs that only mega-corporations can afford. Community food systems are healthy for local people and healthy for local economies. Let us create legislation that economically supports rural communities, family farmers and small food processors.
There is a lot of talk in the media these days about local eating: the 100 Mile Diet, re-localization, Food Security, Food Sovereignty and so on. Until this morning, I had wondered if it is just a fad. Now, I’m glad I have as much control of my food as I do. I think everyone should feel this secure. I no longer think this is a fad. I think it is a necessity. It is time to know: where your food comes from, who is growing it and how, what sort of inputs the farmer/grower uses, how the animals are kept while alive, and how they are killed. It is time to know exactly what our money is supporting: overseas venture capitalists or your neighbourhood family farmer whose kids play with yours.
It is time to take back our local food system and put it in the hands of ourselves and our neighbours.