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Jim Meade / Iowa City
Senior Advisor

Public wishes vs. USDA budget

This is an eye-opening and interesting discussion of how the public would alocate USDA money vs. how the Feds do it.  Well worth the read.

http://www.farmdocdaily.illinois.edu/2011/10/taxpayer_preferences_for_usda.html 

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6 Replies
smokeyjay
Advisor

Re: Public wishes vs. USDA budget

The next question they should have asked, "how many of you watched "Food, Inc." and has this impacted your opinion about agriculture?"

 

The survey reflects a perspective of urban consumers.  Obviously, they are truely concerned about food safety.  However, studies conducted by others about how consumers make buying decisions, places food safety near the bottom of the list.  Most consumers make decisions primarily based on price and then on quality. 

 

When I find the study online, I'll post the link.

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Kay/NC
Honored Advisor

Re: Public wishes vs. USDA budget

First of all, I think that, with the exception of a few highly- publicized issues with pathogens, most of them on raw produce and some of which originated outside the US, the food safety record of the US food system is probably one of the most admirable in the world. The EU has had similar scares and we have no idea how many are victims of food borne problems outside of open, developed societies. Chinese baby formula contamination is one notable exception.

When you presume that food is safe, then the next logical parameters of a buying decision are quality and price. Since quality is quite subjective...some people actually adore parts of a pig that my family would not touch, for instance...the only objective criterion is cost.

We eat a fair number of meals with foodies/ food snobs. Even they will utilize commodity meats and vegetables from Sam's club when they are serving a crowd. I have yet to see anyone turn down a plate.

Mike and I laughed after watching one of the most " gourmet" cooks we have ever known wolfing down his chili at a New Year's party...it was Bush's canned beans, hamburger from our freezer, and commercial seasoning mix, with a few twists he tosses in for good measure. She was snarking away at some Marie Callendar's cornbread from a mix, too. I got scores of compliments yesterday, on some pumpkin bread I stirred up from a Libby's mix pack...even a Home Ec teacher wanted the " recipe".

My point is that food safety is one thing we rarely consider as Americans, unless we are charged with raising safe food.  Then, it becomes an almost-obsession, and we certainly have contractual obligationss to follow all of the guidelines a set of pricey lawyers can devise.  No individually-devised system on a small farm could begin to compare, I think. 

 

Many food borne problems stem from bad handling or preparation. If you spend very little comparatively, and follow safe prep guidelines, an American family can enjoy a good diet, and not cut into money they feel ought to be discretionary or disposable income. It is a part of what we have come to consider our birthright.


The people who speak up for smaller and thus more politically correct farming just do not realize that they will truly miss the standardization of production that has evolved.  This has resulted in the consistency of product offered to them, which will be lacking if current production systems somehow revert to our former food production system. You have to go back to the Depression era to gain a real appreciation for that fact...read Mark Kurlansky's "Food of. Younger Nation".

I will also toss in the whole myth of "local" foods that arrive via Fed Ex and cause a diesel truck to drive a few pounds of bacon to your door, packed in dry ice or chemical cold packs, encased in styrofoam. How that creates an illusion of sustainability -not to mention the carbon footprint of the jet fuel involved in second- day freight- is a mystery to me.



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smokeyjay
Advisor

Re: Public wishes vs. USDA budget

You make very good points. 

 

I am skeptical about a survey that suggests food safety is the consumer's number one issue.  It's never been that high on the list, thanks to the system we have today (FDA, USDA, Centers for disease control, etc.)  In my last post, I mentioned the real priorities.  The resource person that put out these priorities was a panelist on a discussion hosted by the Market to Market folks in Chicago.  I was also a guest on the panel as were other farmers.  This panelist was an employee of Meridith Corporation, a journalist or researcher, I cannot remember as it was about four or five years ago.  These facts were her quotes taken from market research studies.

 

As you mentioned most of the major issues, until the latest Listeria outbreaks, have come from other countries. 

 

Having said that, with our reputation in technology, increasing our ability to discover ever smaller amounts of pathogens in anything we test, I'm not surprised at an allegedly increasing rate of discovery of pathogens in our food.  In the past, people died and we never knew what it was.  We now discover stuff in parts per quadrillion or less.  There's no data to show that people died of the same thing a half century or more ago.  They just got sick and died and we had no clue.

 

One point you make is highly overlooked....lack of adequate food preparation, ie washing food, etc.  I would include lack of proper refrigeration of foods that are not preserved, and lack of adequate cooking at high enough temps for a sustained period of time to kill any food borne pathogens.  This isn't the farmer's fault for something that sneaks in the kitchen door.  You and I were taught the importance of good preparation via our parents, grandparents and teachers in school.

 

Even so, on a statistical level, a hazard rate of 1 or 2 cases per 100k or one million is not a very high risk.  500 to 1000 people die every day from auto accidents and yet we seem unconcerned about it.  Yet, the death of 17 people from Listeria provokes histeria in some circles. (not trying to be a poet)

 

 

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Kay/NC
Honored Advisor

Re: Public wishes vs. USDA budget

Also, consider that there are a lot of people alive, thus eating, today, who would have died due to weak or compromised immunes systems, in ages past. This includes children who survive in very controlled " bubbles" of protection from infection, immuno- suppressed patients who had had their very marrow destroyed in efforts to save their lives, and so on.
These people who died of other causes not very long ago, might get taken down - by a fairly common bug that wouldn't hurt a person with average immunity - today. All things are relative, including risk from food borne illness.
Reporting and research of cause of death are extremely advanced today in developed countries, compared to both our own past, and less technologically advantaged countries in the present. Where you die may have a lot to do with how your death is counted.

The point you make about better testing to quantify the presence of a given pathogen is akin to measurement of other health-driving parameters...quality of drinking water, air pollutants, toxins and residues of pesticides, etc. Which begs the question of how much of any given thing is too much.

The classic phrase, which applies to most is: Dilution is the solution.

I joked with a new friend yesterday, while we shared a volunteer commitment of keeping a refreshment table at a celebration served and cleared, that as a Home Ec teacher, she is a dying breed. Oddly enough, as much as people are crying out for a renewal of vocational-tech education right now, home economics is a hugely-underserved need for our children in the future they are about to experience.

We take food safety for granted, until it happens that one of us or one we love eats something unsafe. Mike and I tried our best to teach our kids to cook in a clean- enough environment, and to follow preparation guidelines as well as we knew how. Still, there are new rules with each passing year, and like with washing a cantaloupe, I can be behind the curve, as discussed before.
In our household, the rule has always been, "When in doubt,,throw it out". No amount of money saved is worth food poisoning.
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wt510151
Senior Contributor

Re: Public wishes vs. USDA budget-foreign disease inspection

Let's keep in mind what the last ten years has done to the prevention of foreign pests.

http://www.iptv.org/mtom/story.cfm/news/8811/mtom_20111014_3707_news_2

Too much focus on terrorism has left this country filled with insects and diseases from foreign countries. Dirty bombs may have been stopped, but the consumers will pay the higher food prices associated with reduced food inspection.

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k-289
Senior Advisor

Re: Public wishes vs. USDA budget-foreign disease inspection

Another hip hip horray for    ""FREE""   trade---  also could someone define "'cheaper""  ? ?

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