Judging by recent headlines, we live in a dangerous world. At any moment we could be blown to bits by an industrial explosion, poisoned by contaminated food from the grocery store, or have our legs blown off by an exploding pressure cooker filled with shrapnel.
Yes, this past week has had its share of sensational disasters, and the media has made sure we see and hear about them over and over and over. Yet, lost in the over-sensationalizing and endless analyzing is the fact that these are relatively rare occurrences. This is due to regulations and safeguards designed to prevent problems.
In early April, a widespread food recall was announced for a variety of frozen food products because of E. coli 0121 linked to Farm Rich brand frozen food products. On March 28, Rich Products Corp. recalled more than 196,000 pounds of Farm Rich brand frozen chicken quesadillas as well as other frozen mini meals and snack items. On April 4, it expanded its recall to include all products produced at its Waycross, Ga. plant between July 1, 2011, and March 29, 2013.
As is typical with these kinds of large recalls, the media quickly called into question the safety of our food supply and questioned the government’s ability to protect consumers. Lost in the fear mongering is the fact that our food today is safer and the instances of foodborne contamination have decreased sharply in recent years.
According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, U.S. food is safer than ever.
The number of foodborne disease outbreaks in 2009-10 declined 32 percent compared with the preceding five years. Some of the credit for this can be attributed to the Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed into law in 2011. This law aims to cooperatively improve food safety by building on existing systems already in place in the private sector.
Food safety is a very important issue for consumers. But Bob Stallman, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said it is a serious issue for farmers, as well.
“Farmers take seriously their responsibility of growing safe food and that’s not just lip service,” Stallman explained. “Farmers have the same desire as other consumers to have a safe, abundant and affordable food supply. And they also have an important economic interest because the demand for their products is determined by consumer confidence.”
According to Dr. Richard Raymond, former Undersecretary for food safety at the USDA, the CDC report is cause for celebration. “You should be able to stand on top of the building and say ‘hey look, (the agriculture) industry is doing a great job, consumers are doing a great job of listening to the safe handling and proper cooking messages.’”
You may have to resort to shouting it from the roof because you will not hear about from the media.
The explosion of a fertilizer distribution plant in West, Texas has, at this writing, resulted in the deaths of five people with widespread devastation. The smoke had hardly cleared before local media outlets were asking, “Could it happen here?”
Here, too, the safety record of the fertilizer industry is very impressive. The Fertilizer Institute’s Vice President of Public Affairs Kathy Mathers said, “I’ve been here with TFI for 23 years and have never seen anything like this in our industry and never even anything close to this.”
Indiana Farm Bureau President Don Villwock said the state has a tremendous safety track record, “Fertilizer facilities are pretty commonplace scattered across rural Indiana.
Many have been relocated outside of cities and towns and many of those for safety concerns, let alone logistical concerns. They’re not tied to railroad tracks like they once were many years ago because most fertilizer is trucked in today.”
Both granular fertilizer and anhydrous ammonia are trucked and anhydrous ammonia “is the number one nitrogen source in the state of Indiana,” Villwock said. “So I’m very proud of our fertilizer industry and how seriously they all take safety training and the well-being of everyone. We have much to be proud of and I don’t think we should have any concerns whatsoever in the Midwest.”
While our world is full of many dangers we cannot control, like the tragedy in Boston, the risks from our food supply and food production system are very low.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers with questions or comments for Gary Truitt may write to him in care of this publication.