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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Editorial Response to Local Food, Local Security

Author
item Wilhelm, Wallace

Submitted to: Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: November 6, 2004
Publication Date: December 1, 2004
Citation: Wilhelm, W.W. 2004. Editorial response to local food, local security. Renewable Agriculture and Food System 19:3

Interpretive Summary: Dr. Enshayan expresses good ideas and views that are appropriate during this time of international uneasiness. I respect Dr. Enshayan for having the courage to openly express his position and for making me think sufficiently deep about the topic to realize I have a somewhat different opinion. Our different points of view may span the range of opinions held by the readers of AJAA. In that regard, Dr. Enshayan may have also established a forum for a valuable discussion among our readers. I compliment Dr. Enshayan for opening the issue of local production and consumption of agricultural products. He raises several extremely important points; increasing enterprise income by locally adding value to agricultural products, adding to the sense of community by buying from and selling to neighbors, and maintaining a fraction of local control over our food supply (quantity, quality, safety, and healthfulness) through local buying and selling. However, I think he has missed two important points in this discussion. First, most people in the US assume our food supply is safe and healthful. This assumption is the result of decades of control by a series of US government regulations that have elevated the standards for food handling and processing to a point where food can be assumed safe (US Food and Drug Administration, 2000; http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/codex/system.htm). Food, regardless of source, is neither safe nor hazardous. The standards during production, processing, transport, and storage largely impart the characteristics of safely and healthfulness (Woteki, et al., 2001; http://www.nutrition.org/cgi/content/full/131/2/502S). Food related illnesses (poisonings) are unusual events and therefore draw media attention. If they were an everyday event, print and broadcast media would not highlight it; they sell newspapers and capture market share by highlighting the unusual and tragic, not restating everyday events. Secondly, some of the improvements in public health can be attributed, in part, to having a wide array of foods available to everyone at a relatively low cost. Nutrition-related diseases are as uncommon today in the US as food poisoning. Having an effective food production, processing, storage, and marketing industry capable of delivering exotic fruits, vegetables, and other produce safely, and at a low cost, has benefited all in our society. The most revealing statement one can make may be the fact that the greatest concern, and the most repeated story relating to public health and food-related diseases, is over-weightedness and obesity. If we relied solely on locally produced food, our food supply would differ greatly from that to which we are accustomed. We would have an abundance of food during the summer and fall months, if local weather condition were favorable, but we would have to process and store some of this abundance for consumption during the winter and spring when fresh produce is not available. This scenario is not greatly different from the food supply that existed in the first half of the 20th century. Our food production industry has evolved from that time, maybe not entirely for the better, but it has changed. We now have great metropolitan areas with massive populations. People in these cities rely on the existence of an efficient food production and distribution system. I am reasonably sure Dr. Enshayan was not suggesting complete abandonment of our food industry infrastructure. At best that would be an intricate, hazardous process. However, in individual cases, where the opportunities exist, there can be benefit to both buyer and seller to seek, and profit from, local markets.

Technical Abstract: Dr. Enshayan expresses good ideas and views that are appropriate during this time of international uneasiness. I respect Dr. Enshayan for having the courage to openly express his position and for making me think sufficiently deep about the topic to realize I have a somewhat different opinion. Our different points of view may span the range of opinions held by the readers of AJAA. In that regard, Dr. Enshayan may have also established a forum for a valuable discussion among our readers. I compliment Dr. Enshayan for opening the issue of local production and consumption of agricultural products. He raises several extremely important points; increasing enterprise income by locally adding value to agricultural products, adding to the sense of community by buying from and selling to neighbors, and maintaining a fraction of local control over our food supply (quantity, quality, safety, and healthfulness) through local buying and selling. However, I think he has missed two important points in this discussion. First, most people in the US assume our food supply is safe and healthful. This assumption is the result of decades of control by a series of US government regulations that have elevated the standards for food handling and processing to a point where food can be assumed safe (US Food and Drug Administration, 2000; http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/codex/system.htm). Food, regardless of source, is neither safe nor hazardous. The standards during production, processing, transport, and storage largely impart the characteristics of safely and healthfulness (Woteki, et al., 2001; http://www.nutrition.org/cgi/content/full/131/2/502S). Food related illnesses (poisonings) are unusual events and therefore draw media attention. If they were an everyday event, print and broadcast media would not highlight it; they sell newspapers and capture market share by highlighting the unusual and tragic, not restating everyday events. Secondly, some of the improvements in public health can be attributed, in part, to having a wide array of foods available to everyone at a relatively low cost. Nutrition-related diseases are as uncommon today in the US as food poisoning. Having an effective food production, processing, storage, and marketing industry capable of delivering exotic fruits, vegetables, and other produce safely, and at a low cost, has benefited all in our society. The most revealing statement one can make may be the fact that the greatest concern, and the most repeated story relating to public health and food-related diseases, is over-weightedness and obesity. If we relied solely on locally produced food, our food supply would differ greatly from that to which we are accustomed. We would have an abundance of food during the summer and fall months, if local weather condition were favorable, but we would have to process and store some of this abundance for consumption during the winter and spring when fresh produce is not available. This scenario is not greatly different from the food supply that existed in the first half of the 20th century. Our food production industry has evolved from that time, maybe not entirely for the better, but it has changed. We now have great metropolitan areas with massive populations. People in these cities rely on the existence of an efficient food production and distribution system. I am reasonably sure Dr. Enshayan was not suggesting complete abandonment of our food industry infrastructure. At best that would be an intricate, hazardous process. However, in individual cases, where the opportunities exist, there can be benefit to both buyer and seller to seek, and profit from, local markets.

Last Modified: 12/18/2014
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