For fruit and veggie lovers only
June 24, 2012 10:28 PM   Subscribe

The Packer - covering the fresh produce industry since 1893 has various articles of general interest such as pursuing an organic fertilizer fraud case, an industry view on how a Dirty Dozen list harms fresh consumption, possibility of cold plasma for food safety, and just what's happening in the market with any particular produce item (top menu).

Previously re invasive stinkbug.
posted by Listener (14 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm curious to see whether the "OMG Frankenfood!" crowd will freak the fuck out over the idea of hosing food down with free radicals, or not make the slightest whimper.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:36 PM on June 24, 2012


When you work in a restaurant, you live in fear that today's spinach delivery is going to be the one that kills somebody, so ANY thing that provides a statistically lower chance of that happening is worth pursuing. Best practices gives us some measure of control on the in-house processing side, but one contaminated carton from the grower...

It's ironic that the food items that the "OMG Frankenfood" crowd actively seeks to eat (and by that, I mean locally, organically grown and heirloom-natural) are the most sensitive to contamination. Frankenfoods by definition have built-in defense and processing systems to minimize those threats and feed the maximum number of people at the most manageable cost. It's not black or white, but I prefer to have the odds stacked in my favor, at least. Or at least until a third arm starts growing out of my chest.

I hope they are able to utilize ten years of trials and bring the cold fusion model at least to sanitizing the processing equipment.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:36 AM on June 25, 2012


I agree with you - there are plenty of nasty pathogens out there and as long as we're cooking for seven billion, we're stuck with the kinds of processing streams that make cross contamination a huge issue.

On the other hand, I knew someone with a PhD in chemistry who was absolutely terrified of the protein degradation that might go on in gamma sterilized food might have some horrible and heretofore unknown effect (but was OK with cooking and digesting food as if the proteins pass through that process intact).
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:53 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The "OMG Frankenfood! crowd" is not worried about spot contamination. They are worried about the widespread and unknown side effects of screwing around with literally the very genes of our third most basic and required thing on earth: food. We've already nearly screwed up the other two basic requirements we have: air and water.

The "crowd" are also worried about corporate control over the same and the supposed regulatory system that's supposed to address these issues. Because it's failed us before (see air, water and medicine) and is patently, if you'll pardon the joke, not working for us.
posted by DU at 6:10 AM on June 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


Armed with new research showing that some consumers are shying away from consuming fresh produce because of pesticide residue concerns, the Alliance Food and Farming called on the Environmental Working Group to cease publication of its Dirty Dozen list unless it can prove otherwise.

An industry group thinks the problem isn't the pesticides, but rather the fact that someone is calling attention to the pesticides? This is my surprised face.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:56 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Frankenfoods by definition have built-in defense and processing systems to minimize those threats and feed the maximum number of people at the most manageable cost.

Frankenfoods may be marketed this way, but in practice, that's not necessarily true. And in some cases, it's those very "built-in defenses" that are at the root of the problem (take for example, the growing number of health issues associated with the excessive antibiotic treatment of livestock). There have been countless counterexamples to this view--processed foods are quite prone to contamination threats, too, only when those threats effect mass produced, industrial-scale processed goods the consequences are much farther reaching and hard to trace, due to the commodification of the raw materials. There may be many things to criticize about the local food movement, but its tendency to promote widespread contamination of food supply is not it; in fact, by its very nature, local food sourcing practices isolate contamination events to local markets, rather than spreading contaminants around. This take on it seems of a piece with the kind of marketing indoctrinated nonsense people bought into in the 50s when they were so cocky about the promise of the industrial sciences they actually believed we could engineer baby formula to be healthier than a mother's own breast milk.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:44 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe it's just me, but I'm kind of thinking that soaking food in free radicals on a wide spread industrial scale is screwing around somewhere on the level of all the strip mining ever. It might not have any unforeseen consequences on a global level, but it should be noted that spray cans and leaking air conditioners are about as spotty of spot contamination as one could ask for, but they sure were capable of doing a number on the ozone.

At least we know what BT toxin does in the environment.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:51 AM on June 25, 2012


spray cans and leaking air conditioners are about as spotty of spot contamination as one could ask for, but they sure were capable of doing a number on the ozone.

Spray cans and air conditioners were spot sources but the whole point was the CFCs all ended up in the ozone layer (especially the poles) and caused a very decidedly NON spot problem.
posted by DU at 9:09 AM on June 25, 2012


Frankenfoods may be marketed this way, but in practice, that's not necessarily true. And in some cases, it's those very "built-in defenses" that are at the root of the problem (take for example, the growing number of health issues associated with the excessive antibiotic treatment of livestock).

That's a bad example. It's a bad practice, but it's not genetic modification of the livestock.

This take on it seems of a piece with the kind of marketing indoctrinated nonsense people bought into in the 50s when they were so cocky about the promise of the industrial sciences they actually believed we could engineer baby formula to be healthier than a mother's own breast milk.

Healthier, no. Babies depend on those antibodies present in mother's milk to develop an immune system - If they can digest mother's milk. Many babies cannot, and we could help those babies, and have continued to do so.

I have no quarrel with the local foods movement - I subscribe to it. I also realize that it is a delicate crop, and a very expensive one to get to market. I won't buy it unless I know who grew it, and I have visited their fields, and I'm convinced that it's ship-shape and following best practices. But I also have to charge $32 for a plate with four baby carrots and two squash blossoms on it. I don't think that that is feasible for the vast majority of people who have to eat something today or starve to death.

Your quarrel I think is not so much with corn that doesn't have blight, but with blight-free corn that is mishandled in the food processing chain, and those are two different things. I still think that every step we can take in sanitizing the food processing chain is a good thing, including the bed of that 1962 Chevy pickup that brings the locally grown food to the market.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 10:20 AM on June 25, 2012


At my undergraduate college, we had an apple orchard which turned out to have been pest-controlled with radioactive material sometime in the previous century, which remained in the soil, necessitating a massive cleanup in the early Aughts. By the time I got there in the 90s, those apples were the gnarliest things I've ever seen, pockmarked to the point of being oblong. Never sure if it was the radiation, or the worms that took 'em once they stopped using pesticide.
posted by gusandrews at 10:50 AM on June 25, 2012


That's a bad example. It's a bad practice, but it's not genetic modification of the livestock.

No, but there are companies who produce livestock feed that's been genetically modified to increase the plants resistance to antibiotics--so they can be used to deliver antibiotics to the livestock. Turns out, studies are beginning to find that antibiotic resistance being transferred to the livestock and their gut bacteria.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:56 AM on June 25, 2012


Full disclosure first: I worked in the food industry for a dozen years, five of those at Whole Foods, a few at Kellogg's, several at the marketing order for California peaches, plums, and nectarines. Peaches have repeatedly been one of the items targeted on the EWG list, and I worked with Marilyn Dolan (quoted in the Dirty Dozen article) on a few projects. (She could fairly be described as...outspoken.)

Anyway, all that said, I sat in quite a few meetings in which the USDA data that the Dirty Dozen list is drawn from was analyzed, and one of the things that the list definitely doesn't make clear is how far below the allowable standard most levels of residues are. There's a handy calculator that demonstrates how many servings of a particular fruit or vegetable you'd have to eat in a day to reach the allowable limit if the item had the most residue USDA has ever found (yes, it was put together with produce industry money). We're talking anywhere from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of servings per day, and from my recollection of the data, most items were not near the max ever detected. (By the way, the amount of pesticide used in California, where most domestic produce is grown, has generally been declining rather than increasing, and California has the strictest pesticide regulations in the nation.) I also learned while I was working there that California's conventional stone fruit growers generally need to spray less often than in other states, because there's basically no rain in the San Joaquin Valley during the growing season to wash the spray off the trees.

Don't get me wrong; I started my working life at Whole Foods for a reason, and I still buy organic when available. But I don't stress too much when I can't.

I have to admit that The Packer's slant always drove me a bit crazy (Farm Journal was worse; I had to stop even opening it because it would ruin my mood for the rest of the day). I got into the food business because I felt like it was a way to help improve peoples' lives. (What's more important to human life than food? It's something we all need, and eating better can make our lives longer and more pleasurable.) But the produce biz in Fresno is quite a bit on the conservative side, and even though I was getting to do work that promoted healthy food, I felt like I was constantly expected to hide my liberal political leanings. It wasn't much use; once people found out I was a vegetarian and that my car was the one with the "I eat tofu and I vote!" sticker, I might as well have had RAGING SOCIAL DEMOCRAT WHO WANTS TO REDISTRIBUTE YOUR WEALTH tattooed on my forehead. Sigh.
posted by jocelmeow at 12:24 PM on June 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


No, but there are companies who produce livestock feed that's been genetically modified to increase the plants resistance to antibiotics--so they can be used to deliver antibiotics to the livestock. Turns out, studies are beginning to find that antibiotic resistance being transferred to the livestock and their gut bacteria.

Never mind. I don't know enough about this topic, on review, to offer a fair comment, so I rescind my previous, almost completely incoherent remarks on the topic and yield the floor to someone with a better handle on it. All the same, I think the more general point I was aiming for--that industrial farming (if not frankenfood in particular) doesn't necessarily represent an unqualified improvement over simpler, smaller-scale food production methods. But this is not one of my particular battles, so I'll leave it at that.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:58 PM on June 25, 2012


missed a "--stands." somewhere in that jumble, too. Time for bed.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:01 PM on June 25, 2012


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