Food inspections need to be a higher priority

Tuesday, May 8, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:09 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

It seemed strange to me last Saturday, when I found myself standing in the aisle of the lawn and garden center pondering whether I should plant a few vegetables in my flower garden. Let’s face it, except for a couple of tomato and green pepper plants, I haven’t done any serious vegetable gardening since my son went off to college more than 20 years ago. But, like most serious people these days, I’m not only concerned about rising food prices, I’m also disturbed about the quality of the food the country is importing.

Considering that we Americans spend so much time exploring food issues — what to eat and how much is a constant topic of conversation among groups of families and friends, and that we even have a television network entirely devoted to the subject — you’d think the government would consider food inspection a major priority.

It’s depressing when you think of how much money and manpower the government spends, for example, on wars and weapons of mass destruction, that according to food experts it lacks the necessary resources to keep our food safe from contamination. One serious outbreak of food poisoning could result in innumerable deaths, not excluding children. What is it about carelessness in the inspection of our food supply being exceedingly dangerous that we don’t understand?

Isolationism is a term everybody seems to think has to do with some form of criminality. I think globalization of the food supply carries with it extraordinary risks unlike globalization of something like space technology. Many countries, for example, don’t have stringent regulations on food production, which means that pesticides and other contaminants could enter the early stage of processing. When we hear about small scale inspections being carried out, the mind rebels when it tries to imagine what the overwhelming portion of our imported foods contain. Of those inspected, some apparently are shown to be unfit for human consumption.

During the years when we used to grow some of our food, we took all kinds of extra precautions to ensure it would be safe for consumption. A common method of controlling garden pests was to plant garlic between the rows of vegetables and dust the leafy vegetables with bread flour to keep down infestation. Of course, this took a great deal of time. The fact that in some countries, from which we import foods, pesticides and chemical fertilizers are still being used is enough to chill the spine.

Those of us who are pet owners got a wake-up call with the recent threat to pet safety. I’m sure that if steps had not been taken immediately, there would have been an all-out revolt by the citizens. But, once the problem was identified and the source of the contaminated food was located and dealt with, people seemed to think the problem had been solved.

Actually, the problem is even more critical, when you realize that at the time that spinach and peanut butter were found to be unsafe, safety inspections by the Food and Drug Administration had been greatly reduced. This would have been a great opportunity for the public to get involved and demand that additional inspectors be hired and that inspections be conducted on a more frequent basis.

I realize that the good old days, when Missouri fed the nation, are gone forever. Unfortunately, the family farm has been replaced with corporate farmers who deal with an international market and are far more concerned with profits than with quality of production.

It’s just a fact that my life felt a lot more secure when my butter was churned by the farmer’s wife from dairy products that came from their cow who was raised on grain from their own land or purchased from the local farm supply store.

Call me old-fashioned, but my family thrived on life in a small world. It could be that I’m globally impaired, but frankly, going back to growing my own vegetables is beginning to sound better all the time.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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