Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Markets in Peril Update: Using Scare Tactics

And you thought scare tactics were so last year. Turns out Dick Cheney isn't the only one who wanted to frighten people into panicky overreactions…now food officials are summoning the image of (ick!) bloody diarrhea to try to support increased restrictions on Oregon's burgeoning farmers' markets.

Small farmers who sell direct to the public at farmers' markets are facing the prospect of punitive rules that may reduce consumer choices in the markets and cause further headaches and uncertainty. Not to mention that these new rules are being proposed without one Oregon farmers' market ever having been linked to an outbreak of food-borne illness.

In a recent article in the Bend (OR) Bulletin on the "surveillance exercises" conducted by the ODA last summer, Ron Klein, a food safety manager for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, was quoted as saying that "in Alaska last year…more than 60 people became sick from raw peas sold at farmers markets. The peas had been infected with bird feces, and some of those infected suffered from weeks of diarrhea, fever and vomiting. One case even led to permanent neurological damage.

"Regardless of whether Oregon has had a reported problem, Klein added, 'You should not have to wait until somebody dies.'"

Sounds pretty bad, right? What the article failed to mention was that the problem originated from a flock of Sandhill Cranes that were nesting in the field and that the farm neglected to use chlorine in the wash water of the shelled peas. Furthermore, neither of these problems would be prevented by any new regulations the ODA is considering for Oregon farmers' markets. Oh, and by the way, nobody died. And the farm wasn't found to be operating illegally and none of the retailers who sold the peas were cited.

Kind of makes you wonder what the motive was for bringing this up, doesn't it? In the article, the ODA's Ellen Laymon said, “We don't want politics to drive food safety decisions.” Hm…sounds like it's too late for that. Maybe Dick Cheney could help us figure it out.

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