FDA regulations for produce don't need changing

I appreciated your Sept. 29 editorial, "Food safety in an industrial age," but your conclusion that industry regulation has a less than stellar track record is mistaken. In support of this, your editorial points out that "This latest outbreak has been traced back to the state's Salinas Valley area, and so have nine of the 20 other known E. coli lettuce and spinach contaminations since 1995." However, California accounts for about 75 percent of the production of lettuce and spinach in the United States, so if only nine of 20 outbreaks are based in California, it means the state has disproportionately safe produce.

Your editorial also states: "Food-safety experts pushing for produce to be as regulated and overseen as meat are probably right...." There is no evidence that anyone was failing to meet FDA standards, so no amount of inspectors would have made a difference. The FDA's "Good Agricultural Practices" and "Good Manufacturing Practices" are deeply integrated in the produce industry.

"...local food can contribute to safety. It's transported and handled less, and when there's a problem, it's easier to pinpoint and contain." This is almost precisely wrong. Note that there were a total of 411 health incidents reported for the 19 outbreaks preceding the investigation into spinach. This works out to 21.64 health incidents reported per outbreak. These outbreaks are typically traceable to products that sell bags or pounds in the millions.

If a small farmer sells product at a local farmers' market, the odds are that even if it has E. coli on it, the number of people who get sick will be too small to generate enough information to the Centers for Disease Control to ever be able to trace the outbreak back to that small farmer. But that doesn't mean it is safer. It's just harder to track. In urging locally grown produce for food-safety reasons, you are merely urging improved food safety statistics, not improved food safety.
Jim Prevor
The Perishable Pundit
Editor-in-chief, Produce Business magazine
Boca Raton, Fla.

New urbanism: the best of both worlds

The Oct. 3 article, "How America grows: A tale of two cities," couches the growth debate as a battle between infill and sprawl. The article's writers overlook a third possibility that combines the best of both worlds: new urbanism.

This pedestrian-friendly mixed-use space (residences, commerce, and offices all in the same neighborhood) does not have to be infill, although it can be, and it commands premium prices wherever it is built, from Kentlands, Md., to Orenco Station, Ore., to Seaside, Fla.

The only thing keeping us from building more seems to be the way we confine the debate to the false dichotomy of sprawl vs. infill. With new urbanism, we really can have our cake and eat it, too.
Mark Dempsey
Orangevale, Calif.

Some autos used to be battery powered

Regarding the Sept. 28 article, "Race to make clean, fuel-sipping cars revs up": My Father has told me the story many times of thousands of all-battery-powered delivery vans that Railway Express Agency had in Manhattan in 1946. Dad went to work for them as a vehicle mechanic after World War II. He says that everything from bread to baby diapers was delivered by battery-powered vans and that REA had many of these at that time. And in 1946, there were no fancy batteries, no regenerative braking, no microprocessors, and the transistor had not yet been invented – but they had the political will to clean up the city.
Glenn Andersen
Buena Park, Calif.

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