Food Safety Clashes with Environmental Rules

Growers on California's Central Coast are finding it more difficult to protect the Earth when the need to ensure food safety conflicts with environmental rules aimed at improving water quality and wildlife habitat.

In response to a number of food safety outbreaks -- most recently an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak associated with bagged spinach in September 2006 -- some growers are removing conservation measures adjacent to croplands, according to a survey of Central Coast growers published in the University of California's California Agriculture journal (April-June 2008). For the full article, visit http://californiaagriculture.ucop.edu.

Researchers found that 8 percent (of 181 growers surveyed in spring 2007) had crops rejected by buyers based on the presence of practices to improve water quality and wildlife habitat on the farm. Likewise, 15 percent of the growers (managing some 30,000 acres) had removed or discontinued the use of previously adopted conservation practices, including ponds and reservoirs, irrigation reuse systems, and noncrop vegetation buffers such as grassed waterways, riparian habitat, buffer strips and trees.

However, authors Melanie Beretti, program director of the Monterey County Resource Conservation District, and Diana Stuart, University of California-Santa Cruz doctoral candidate in environmental studies, cite research showing that discouraging or actively removing such conservation practices could, in some cases, actually increase the risk of crop contamination.

"Keeping produce as safe as possible is a critical goal," the authors write. "However, the means to achieve this goal should be carefully investigated to ensure that those measures actually reduce risks of crop contamination, do not increase other human health risks as a result of environmental degradation, and are cost-effective and practical to implement."

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