Organic Foods Not Always Safer

Recent outbreaks of salmonella in organic eggs revealed organic foods are not always safer than foods from larger operations.

"Labels like organic or local don't translate into necessarily safer products," says Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, as reported by the Associated Press. "They are capturing different values but not ensuring safety."

Part of the reason is that organically and locally-grown foods sometimes don't get the same rigorous Food and Drug Administration safety inspections as large food operations, which reach more people.

"While it's critical that food processors be regularly inspected, there is no way the Food and Drug Administration would ever have the resources to check every farm in the country, nor are we calling for that," says Erik Olson, a food safety advocate at the Pew Health Group, as reported by the Associated Press. "Unfortunately, there are regulatory gaps, with some producers being completely exempt from FDA safeguards."

Not only is the FDA focused more on the companies with the greatest reach, but smaller farms are now exempt from the safety inspections thanks to a new food safety law President Barack Obama signed earlier this year, according to the Associated Press. A result of farmers and local food advocates complaining that creating costly food safety plans could cause some small businesses to go bankrupt, the exemption covers farms of a certain size that sell within a limited distance of their operation.

Food safety advocates unsuccessfully lobbied against the provision, as did the organic industry, the Associated Press reports. Christine Bushway of the Organic Trade Association, which represents large and small producers, says food safety comes down to proper operation of a farm or food company, not its scale. "How is the farm managed? How much effort is put into food safety?" she asks, as reported by the Associated Press. "If you don't have really good management, it doesn't matter." But smaller farms do have some food safety advantages. Owners have more control over what they are producing and often do not ship as far, lowering the chances for contamination in transport, according to the Associated Press. If the farm is organic, an inspector will have to visit the property to certify it is organic and may report to authorities if they see food being produced in an unsafe way. Larry Schultz Organic Farm of Owatonna, Minn., issued a recall last week after six cases of salmonella poisoning were linked to the farm's eggs.
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