About food safety

After a week off to move back to town and sort my life out, I’ve started working at the farm again. It’s strange to be away from the farmhouse, not have a woodstove to warm up in front of, no trails and forest behind the house, and not to wake up to the sound of coyotes in the night. I’m also missing the farmhouse crew, and my house in town feels so empty since everyone else here is in school. But it’s been good to be in town, where everything is a quick bike ride away (I’m trying to relish the last few weeks of bikeable weather) and to catch up with friends.

After spending 6 1/2 months farming, though, having an entire week with nothing to do but set up my room seemed like forever. It was so good to return to the farm to start my winter work there, even without the big group of interns.

our last day interning. we had lunch cooked on the campfire

I want to talk about food safety and the impact different kinds of food production have on life. Because the other day, someone at the farm found this helmet.

It’s part of a suit that’s worn to protect workers when pesticides are being sprayed – a remnant from a time when the land maybe wasn’t farmed organically. The helmet has a built-in ventilation system so the worker who is spraying doesn’t have to breathe in the chemicals that are being put on the plants. (The small black canister on the back is the fan).

Finding information about the ill effects of chemicals used to grow food is not difficult. Pesticides are neruotoxins, hormone disruptors, carcinogens, and can cause birth defects. How can we be applying known poisons to food on a regular basis and not expect them to impact anything but their target pests? It’s no wonder things like the helmet exist.

A full-body suit would look something like this:

In some cases workers will spot-spray by hand. Alternatively, plants are sprayed using other methods like this one:

Finding this helmet has made me so grateful that I have access to food that’s free from chemicals. It’s unfortunate that such substances are approved for use on food – something people are going to consume, that will be taken up by the body and integrated into it, that’s supposed to keep us in good health. It’s troubling that these practices are still considered safe, when the fact that such protection needs to be worn when using these chemicals makes it obvious that these are NOT safe things to be exposed to. I feel the need to mention that organic farming does allow for some pest control measures via sprays and amendments, although from my experience it’s less common and not routine like it is for many conventionally grown crops. I would guess that this sort of thing is quite common in “big organic” industry (ie. if you get something like organic jam at a grocery store that is branded and available widely in stores, it comes from a big producer, probably with many farms contracted to grow for them in order to be able to produce such a large supply. To keep a consistent product, measures such as spraying would likely be taken on these contract farms). This is a bit of a sidebar, but for more information about who owns what in the “big organic” industry, take a look here. Thankfully I’m lucky enough to know what did or did not get put on my food from the farm.

Image from the link:

It’s also very disheartening to know that there’s no regulation in Canada that makes the labeling of genetically modified foods and conventionally grown foods mandatory. Instead the onus is put on organic producers to label their foods, which means paying to have their farms inspected annually in order to stay certified. For small producers this is often impractical and unaffordable. But the absence of mandatory labeling for chemical use and genetic modification essentially makes us unable to choose whether to buy and consume foods that are contaminated; we are not given a choice because almost everything that’s available in stores is conventional, and we can’t tell the difference unless we have access to an alternative that’s clearly labelled (like something that’s certified organic). But it’s sadly unsurprising that these labeling laws aren’t in place. Who would willingly buy a product if it was labelled as such, given the choice and access to alternatives? Economic disaster would occur for the companies producing these foods if people knew what was in them and chose to avoid them. When money is put before health, something is very wrong.

corn monocrop – from http://www.agefotostock.com/en/Stock-Images/Rights-Managed/AGS-163816-D-5744

One thing that was emphasized in my organic ag class, the only one I ever took (and the only one that made any sense out of all my agriculture courses at school), was the importance of looking at the bigger picture. Non-organic food is cheap, because so many costs are externalized by industrial agriculture – environmental destruction, human and animal health, destruction of forests (including rainforests), soil degradation, water contamination, air pollution…if no one is held accountable for contributing to these problems, and companies are allowed to continue practices that aggravate them, what is going to happen to our food supply? What will happen to our water, the ecosystems we’re a part of, our health? Soil degradation has become an issue of increasing worry to me, because not all land can grow food, and we’re so quickly building houses and factories on the valuable farmland we have left. Over 1/3 of Ontario’s best farmland can be seen from the CN tower – sitting underneath Toronto and the GTA. Where do people expect our food to be grown if we keep covering up our farmland with concrete?

I could go on and on. A main frustration for me is that the government is not taking a strong enough stance on food safety (nor on access to safe and healthy food – the worst food is often the cheapest, so people who have limited funds commonly have no choice in the matter, either).

This is why I feel so lucky to be able to eat what I eat. I have the choice to eat some foods grown without toxic chemicals, to eat plant foods instead of animals, and to eat some foods that didn’t travel halfway across the world to get to my plate. I have this choice because I’m fortunate enough to have access to such food, to be able to afford it, and to have the knowledge that gives me the power to decide what I wish to consume (and what practices I wish to support). If I were living in extreme poverty, lived in a food desert, or did not come to learn about our food system, I would not be able to make these choices. But everyone should be able to, and better yet, no one should ever be forced to choose affordability over health!

On a more positive note, the farm sunsets continue to be breath taking. Here you can see Venus as the lone bright star on the top left.

I leave you with some websites of note. Knowledge is power.

The Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15: about which produce contains the most vs. the least chemical residues. This is a good place to start!

More information about the push for food labeling

Stop the Mega Quarry – one example of how farmland and water sources (and our environment in general) get eaten up by industry. If you drink water you’ll want to look at this.

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About tino

I'm an aspiring organic farmer living in canada. I talk about farm life, things I'm learning, other relevant topics like feminism, social & environmental justice, nature, animals, vegan food, and fun.

Posted on December 3, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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