Last December, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson resigned his post. At the news conference announcing his resignation, Secretary Thompson spoke regarding the possibility of a bioterror attack on the food supply, saying "For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do."
On Monday, during a session at the Association of Food and Drug Officials' annual conference, a federal food safety official said that school lunches are an attractive target for potential bioterrorists. She noted the vulnerability of three products specifically: milk, spaghetti sauce and egg substitutes.
Consider this: McDonald's Corporation is the single largest purchaser of potatoes in the U.S. and uses 7% of all U.S.-grown potatoes each year to make french fries and hash browns. This amounts to 3.2 billion pounds of raw potatoes. Each of those potatoes is sent through one of only eighteen processing plants in the U.S. to then be distributed to over 13,000 stores across the country.
That means that a strategic bioterrorism hit in only eighteen processing plants could affect millions of pounds of potatoes in every McDonald's throughout our country.
I am not talking about this to just bring up gloom and doom statistics. When we are talking about terrorism, and contamination of our food, it is easy to feel completely hopeless about the situation. Eating locally grown foods with only a few steps from farm to table is a direct combatant to intentional food contamination.
Who is going to contaminate the garden of the school children at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School participating in the Edible Schoolyard program? Or the schools participating in the Farm to School Program? Who is going to bother to mess with the beef I buy from Ted in Vacaville, or the tomatoes from Nigel in Winters, or the cherries from John in Escalon, or the berries I pick myself in Davenport? Hitting any of these locations would have such a tiny effect compared to a processing plant which handles 177 million pounds of potatoes a year.
Of course the national folks should be paying attention to security at every step of the food process. They should be making sure the large farms are protected, that the processing plants and distribution centers are secure, and that there is a strategic safety plan for the trucks carrying our food an average of 1,494 miles across the United States. But I personally always feel more comfortable when I have control of a situation. And buying locally grown foods helps me to take back that control.
"Food Safety Officials Tackling School Lunch Threats", Associated Press, Jun 7 05.
"New Rules to Beat Food Terrorism", Associated Press, Dec 6 04.
Quality McFacts, McDonald's Corporation official media site