Food Safety & Sustainable Agriculture
November 4, 2011
In the wake of the 2006 spinach-related E. coli outbreak, widespread changes to on-farm agricultural practices are dramatically changing the dynamic between farming and nearby natural lands. The Nature Conservancy's Food Safety Project has found that this change is leading to significant impacts to conservation values.
These changes are most pronounced in leafy green production areas of California’s Central Coast, and are driven primarily by new, proprietary corporate food safety standards demanded by bagged salad processors and retail buyers such as chain grocers and fast food outlets.
The epicenter of this phenomenon is the Salinas Valley, often referred to as America’s Salad Bowl. Salinas Valley is in the heart of California’s Central Coast, and the 165 mile-long Salinas River drains to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Like many of the nation’s most productive agricultural areas, the Central Coast supports exceptional natural biodiversity.
Despite extensive investigation, the source of the 2006 outbreak was not determined, and initial reports linking it to feral pigs at the farm level have been retracted.
Nevertheless, wildlife has been targeted by corporate food safety standards as a primary risk factor, and many new on-farm practices are expressly intended to reduce or eliminate the presence of wildlife and potential habitat from proximity to farms. These requirements are expanding to other crops well beyond California and food safety legislation working its way through Congress could exacerbate this problem if these potential conflicts are not addressed.
Recent habitat mapping along the Salinas River has noted substantial habitat loss in areas proximate to farm fields, including clearing of riparian, wetland and grassland habitat and removal of conservation practices. Other practices reported by landowners and regulatory agencies include the destruction of water features, the use of poison to eliminate rodents, birds and amphibians and extensive use of fencing along waterways, natural lands and farm fields to exclude wildlife which can significantly disrupts wildlife movement corridors.
These changes also have serious implications for the economic and ecological sustainability of farming, particularly small and mid-sized operations and those located closest to sensitive resources.
Many new food safety practices represent a significant step backward in terms of voluntary resource conservation efforts developed over the past 20 years, often with federal financial support through the Farm Bill, Natural Resource Conservation Service, and other public investments. Growers have reported through formal surveys and interviews with researchers that some corporate food safety requirements put them under pressure to contravene environmental laws intended to protect natural resources, including the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.
Liz Spence will discuss the Food Safety Project and how corporations and farmers can start to work together to co-manage our natural resources.
Doors open at 7pm, presentation starts at 7:30pm.
Liz Spence is a Project Manager for the North and Central Coast Region of The Nature Conservancy California Chapter.
In her role, Liz manages conservation initiatives on agricultural landscapes and rangelands through industry engagement and corporate partnerships. She is committed to finding win-win conservation solutions that reward responsible land stewards for the benefits they provide to biodiversity. She leads the food safety and “co-management” initiative at TNC, collaborating with leafy green growers in the Salinas, top scientists from U.C. Davis and U.C. Santa Cruz and resource agencies such as NOAA, DFG and NMFS.
Prior to TNC California, she formerly worked for the World Wildlife Fund in the Validivian Temperate Rainforest of Chile on sustainable development planning with Mapuche communities. She holds a B.A. from Dartmouth College in Environmental Studies and Spanish Literature and has completed the Business Program at the Tuck School of Business.
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For your convenience, we have compiled these resources as a starting point for your research. PNC does not have any relationship with these websites and inclusion on this list does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement.
- Salinas Valley Grower Survey: Challenges to Co-Management of Food Safety and Environmental Protection: A Grower Survey
- The Safe and Sustainable Report: Co-managing for food safety and ecological health in California’s Central Coast region
- Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF): Food Safety Articles, Reports & More
- Center for Food Safety: is a nonprofit with the purpose of challenging harmful food production technologies and promoting sustainable alternatives.
- Cornell University Department of Food Science: Providing fundamental, science-based, on-farm food safety knowledge to fresh fruit and vegetable farmers, packers, regulatory personnel and others interested in the safety of fresh produce.
- Agriculture Water Quality Alliance (AWQA): is a partnership of agriculture industry groups, resource conservation agencies, researchers, and environmental organizations
- Center for Produce Safety is focused on providing the produce industry with information on enhancing the safety of fresh fruits and vegetables.