Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Risk Management: Seeing the Wood for the Trees

In case you haven't heard about Joel Salatin before, he is a hero to the organic farming movement.  Not only a charismatic speaker, he claims to be a grass farmer.  In fact, he owns a farm that produces highly prized free range chickens, eggs, cows and pigs, and he makes good money doing so.

This little vimeo clip is specifically relevant to this blog, because of the comments he makes towards the end about the underlying causes of the problems in our food system. Joel claims the government's overarching belief with regard to managing risk in the food system is that sterile = safe.

Thus highly processed sugary breakfast cereals are given the go-ahead, but tomatoes grown with organic compost are regarded as potential sources of toxicity.

This is something I see all the time in our schools, where our local school board is resisting the creation of school gardens.  For the past two years, they have been working on a policy to ensure the safety of students.  For example, they are grappling with the issue of washing all produce before eating it, because dogs may have peed on it.

Meanwhile, our children face numerous examples of suboptimal food choices all the time, with little political will to put a stop to them.  Yet, cumulatively, these poor food choices lead to long term health problems which somehow don't factor nearly as much into the risk assessment models.

For example, my children's teachers regularly use candy to reward good behaviour, and we see parent councils serve serving sugars and highly refined carbohydrates at school fundraisers.  Parents, quite correctly, in my opinion, are free to pack whatever they like in their children's lunch boxes.  However, when I look at what children bring to school, I am constantly saddened by the high percentage of processed and packaged foods that most children eat at school every day.  It rubs off on my children too, who sometimes wish they could have packaged granola bars or tetrapack sugary juice boxes.

Take a look at Joel's video.  He puts his finger on the crux of the problem:  a healthy food system is not sterile.  It's natural and alive.  Conventional food and farming policy aims to reduce risk, and this, paradoxically, is the source of much of the risk to our food system.

The conventional food system misses the wood for the trees.

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