Our VoiceImmigration

Blame a Poisoned, Inhumane Food System . . . Not Sprouts

Jessica Acee • Jun 13, 2011

Health officials and news pundits are blaming bean sprouts for the latest outbreak of E.coli in Europe, which has killed at least 22 and sickened over 2000. But the real culprit is a diseased and dysfunctional food system where the earth is plowed and crops are picked by workers lacking in the most basic of safe working conditions.

As the “foodie” and “locavore” movements keep growing, it’s shocking that there has been no loud public outcry about our broken and poisonous food system.  It seems that the people buying their vegetables at Whole Foods and curing their own gourmet meats think they can buy their way out of food deserts and diseased produce but this E. coli outbreak happened at an organic farm in Europe, where they are light years ahead of the US in terms of farm safety regulations.

The outbreak has been blamed on a highly aggressive, “super-toxic” strain of E. coli, perhaps one that scientists have never seen before.  Could this “highly aggressive” strain have resulted from the rampant use of anti-biotics in our food systems?  One can only presume.

Conditions for farm workers at large scale, corporate farms have always been bad, but when a lot of family farms went under during the 1970s and ’80s, corporate farms hiring low-wage workers flourished.  After 30 years much remains the same; wages are stagnant, benefits nonexistent, and safety is a four-letter word.  Our food systems will never be clean and healthy as long as workers toil away in unsanitary, demoralizing conditions.

Because these agriculture jobs are so undesirable the majority of the workers are immigrants.  For those who are undocumented (as a large portion are) it’s even more harrowing.  In addition to being paid little and treated poorly for backbreaking work, often because they are immigrants, these workers also fear deportation and lack access to a social safety net.

It’s about to get a lot worse in Alabama, the latest state to sign into law draconian, anti-immigrant measures. Among other provisions, the Alabama law requires public schools to determine students’ immigration status and makes it a crime to knowingly give an illegal immigrant a ride.  Al Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said Alabama’s law would create “a modern-day trail of tears for immigrants in the state.”

In addition to draining state resources, businesses are already worried about losing their workforce. The Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association estimated that labor shortages stemming from a similar immigration law in that state could have a $300 million impact on its agriculture industry.

It’s not enough for those that can afford it to buy local.  It’s not enough to buy organic.  As long as the corporate farms place profit over human life our food supply will always be tainted.  As long as the workers who grow, produce, and package our food can’t afford to feed their own families, the system has failed us all.

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