Safety and Accountability
In August of 2010 the United States Food & Drug Administration pulled nearly half a billion contaminated eggs off of grocery store shelves due to an outbreak of salmonella poisoning, which had already sickened over 1,300 people earlier that summer. The contaminated eggs were all traced to two factory farms in Iowa which had already been cited by the FDA for numerous health and labor violations. This recall led to closer scrutiny of the large-scale farming and food processing operations that continue to source most of our food in West Virginia and across the country.
Local foods advocates argue that regardless of whether you consider food from local farms to be safer, fresher, and more healthy than food from larger out-of-state farms, the inherent transparency of local foods systems makes it easier to hold your local farmer accountable to standards of food safety and quality. Food travelling from larger producers in other states, by contrast, can be difficult even to trace to its source. Again, the egg recall provides an example. According to the WV Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) informed West Virginians in August 2010 that it believed no contaminated eggs had been shipped to West Virginia. However, inspections by West Virginia Department of Agriculture revealed that 18 West Virginia locations had unknowingly received the recalled eggs. It had been so difficult to track the shipment of these millions of contaminated products that not even the FDA was able to determine where they all ended up.
Most West Virginia farms are small farms, which are less likely to sicken a large population of customers simply because each farm serves fewer people. From a risk management perspective, there is something to be said for the West Virginian egg farm that is unlikely to even produce half a billion eggs in its lifetime, much less be asked to recall half a billion eggs.
Direct food sales and local food systems build trust and a (very accurate) sense of interdependency between producers and consumers. Peilee Ren, a Fayette County, WV restaurant owner who buys eggs from a local farmer for her restaurant, commented in an August 2010 interview with West Virginia Public Radio:
“You develop a relationship with someone, you know where these chickens are from, you know what they eat, all those sorts of things…The salmonella thing, we all have seen images and movie clips of what goes on in those hen houses. And I know exactly what goes on at my farmer’s hen house.”
(Listen to her interview and read the Associated Press article here.)
For this reason, more West Virginian customers, businesses, and institutions are turning to local farms as a source of products they can trust.