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Back when the Wire covered the big salmonella egg recall, commentators were saying new regulation--lamentably late--might prevent a similar outbreak in the future. In fact, they were hoping for more and tighter regulation overall.

Barry Estabrook isn't. Writing for The Atlantic's food site, he says a food safety bill about to come up in the Senate could actually make things worse. Why? Because "the cause of the current salmonella outbreak is industrial-scale factory farming," he argues. Meanwhile, this law would make it even harder for the challengers to industrial agriculture--the small producers and farmer's market participants--to survive.

He looks back to the E. coli spinach fiasco in 2006:
The industry in California, where the contaminated spinach was grown, implemented a wide-reaching series of sanitation regulations geared toward packing plants that mill out greens by the ton. Smaller producers worried that they would not be able to afford to comply with rules made for factory conditions and drew attention to undisputed food-safety statistics that made Big Ag advocates extremely uncomfortable. Of 12 recorded instances of E. coli outbreaks attributed to California leafy greens since 1999, 10 had been attributed to mechanically harvested greens that were bagged in large production facilities. The source of two outbreaks remained undetermined. Precisely zero were linked to small farms selling to local markets.
So what should lawmakers do? According to Estabrook, it's an easy call:
Vote to include an amendment put forward by John Testor (D-MT), himself an organic farmer, to exempt small, local sellers from the regulations.

That way folks who like to get their food from huge factory farms will be less likely to be poisoned, and those of us who prefer to patronize the small producers who live near us—or even keep a half-dozen hens of our own—will still have sources for clean, safe produce and meat.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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