Bemidji Pioneer Editorial Board
Bemidji Pioneer - 02/26/2009

American farmers take great pride in the product they produce, having a great reputation of feeding the world from a nation with an abundance of safe and bountiful food.

But the rise in food safety issues casts doubt on America’s ability to produce food safely. In most cases, it isn’t the farmer or the rancher, but the processor in the middle.

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District, told the Pioneer last week that the large branded companies have something at stake — their good name. They provide safeguards to prevent contamination of their product, otherwise their brand name’s reputation could be as spoiled as their food product.

It’s the processor which services restaurants, institutions and schools that can slip by, as they have no brand name to protect, Peterson said. Such is the case with Peanut Corp. of America, the now bankrupt company traced as the cause of a nationwide outbreak of salmonella.

Peterson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said his committee will soon hold hearings on food safety. He continues to propose that the U.S. Department of Agriculture take over all food inspection services from the understaffed Food and Drug Administration which would need a serious infusion of resources to even consider an inspection program such as the USDA does with meat and poultry.

It’s a good idea, and one that should ensure greater safety over our food supply. It still won’t guarantee absolutely safe food, but would go a long ways down that road.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, last week called for more regulations to ensure safe food. It would help to have more thorough and frequent inspections of processing facilities and more clear reporting requirements at critical production points, as do USDA inspectors in meat plants.

In a two-thirds page ad in Wednesday’s USA Today, the National Peanut Board said that “America’s peanut farmers care. That’s why we are in support of efforts to safeguard and protect the growing, manufacturing and distribution of our peanuts. We don’t want anyone to ever worry about the safety of peanuts or any food product again.”

That will need congressional action to step up food safety efforts. While we don’t often believe it necessary for more government intervention into business practices, it does become necessary where public health is involved. And, as we said at the outset, the American farmer takes pride in what they produce, and they want it to arrive at the consumer’s table as fresh as it was off the farm — and safe.