So, there\’s an outbreak of e coli. Thus Ms. Blythman, our \”food writer\” decides to leap in with her prejudices:
With food scandals now arriving in a steady stream, we need to understand that by its very nature, our industrialised, globalised food system begets public health problems. It is geared to churning out vast volumes of food and raising productivity, but at the lowest cost. So farmers and growers are pushed to make savings by cutting corners and adopting intensive practices, which open up unprecedented risks that are graver all the time: everything from toxins from GM crops turning up in foetal blood, through sickly, cloned calves dying soon after birth, to the creation of more virulent superbugs.
Right, so, clearly more people must be being killed by this industrial food system than are killed by the previous, non-industrial food system then.
A small outfit producing a contaminated product will affect only small numbers of people; a giant one doing the same will hurt large numbers.
Quite true, but not the point. Which system, local or global, produces the most deaths from food poisoning?
But if we want our food to be truly safe, we must recognise that this can only be delivered by a radically different model of food and agriculture, one that is based on the largely untapped potential of small-scale, much more regional production and food distribution. We need a new system that no longer concentrates power and control of the food chain in the hands of a few global corporations and interest groups, at the expense of everyone else, one that puts diversity at its heart and respects the limits of the natural world, rather than trying to override them. Until then, expect more food scares. It\’s business as usual.
So, which is it?
We\’ll leave aside the real conceptual problem we have here, which is that small scale and local food systems don\’t in fact grow enough food to keep everyone from starving. For we can\’t actually count people dead from no food as people who have been poisoned by the food they didn\’t get.
Rightie ho. Deaths from food borne illnesses in this highly industrialised and mechanised agriculture of the US :
In the United States, using FoodNet data from 1996–1998, the CDCP estimated there were 76 million foodborne illnesses (26,000 cases for 100,000 inhabitants):
- 325,000 were hospitalized (111 per 100,000 inhabitants);
- 5,000 people died (1.7 per 100,000 inhabitants.).
Similar deaths in the not highly industrialised and mechanised agricultures of the Third World:
Diarrhoea due to infection is widespread throughout the developing world. In Southeast Asia and Africa, diarrhoea is responsible for as much as 8.5% and 7.7% of all deaths respectively.
Scope of the Problem
Amongst the poor and especially in developing countries, diarrhoea is a major killer. In 1998, diarrhoea was estimated to have killed 2.2 million people, most of whom were under 5 years of age (WHO, 2000).
Hey, so what do you want? a 0.002% of dying of shit in your food each year or a near 100% liklihood of having to watch one of your children shit themselves to death?
Me, I\’ll take the industry thanks and use this opportunity to declare Ms. Blythman to be an opportunist hack.