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Tomato TragedyPosted Saturday, July 19, 2008, at 9:27 PM
Summertime in Missouri is tomato time! I remember when I brought my first-born child down from Alaska in '74 to show him off to the relatives, all I wanted to eat was my mother-in-law's fresh tomatoes from the garden. Tomatoes and cottage cheese, bacon 'n tomato sandwiches, tomatoes in salad - just tomatoes and sweet corn, till it came out my ears! My husband and I hadn't had a good tomato since we left Missouri in '69.
If I were a tomato-grower right now, I'd be just sick about what's happened this year with the salmonella scare. According to the latest figures, the nation's tomato industry has lost $100 million since the outbreak which began in April, sickening 1,220 people in 42 states.
The U.S. Food and Drug Aministration still hasn't figured out where the salmonella originated. Now they're recommending that the elderly and people with weak immune systems avoid eating fresh jalapenos and serranos and any food containing them, such as fresh salsa. They say that the tomatoes are okay.
It really doesn't seem fair. Growers in California, Florida and Georgia, the top three tomato-producing states, test their tomatoes regularly for salmonella and e-coli, and their crops were never under suspicion, but they're suffering the damages anyway.
"It's a government-made disaster," said Melanie Horwath, fourth generation tomato grower in the Salinas Valley. Her family's business sustained crop losses of $2 million. "The government has a responsiblity to only provide facts, not idle speculation. They're going to put us all out of business."
Growers are wondering why the trace-back is taking so long, when the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 requires food-handling companies to keep detailed records allowing tracing of food through the distribution chain.
"We know in the tomato industry we are required to hold these records," sayd Ed Beckman, president of the Californian Tomato Farmers. "If there was someone that is involved in the handling of any produce item that is not doing their job, we need to have an understanding that that's the case. If that's not the case, then why did it take so long to come to the conclusion that FDA has come to?"
Both salmonella and E. coli bacteria enter food through mammal feces, and can be transferred to produce by animals, humans and water.
Because of this animal connection, the FDA is trying to crack down on the proximity of animals to the produce farms. They've even suggested "clean strips" around the fields, barriers created by herbicides. One cantaloupe grower indicated that the FDA was requiring them to have all telephone lines rerouted, so that no birds are able to perch above the crops. Other growers are building huge fences to keep out wildlife.
Wow, whatever happened to life down on the farm??
Our world just continues to get stranger and stranger! What are things coming to, when you can't even eat a tomato without worrying about getting sick?? Maybe it's a good thing my mother-in-law isn't alive to see what a mess we've gotten ourselves into! It would be beyond her comprehension.
As for me, Paul Corbin brought me some produce Friday, and my goat friend Emma came by the office with tomatoes. Makes me glad I'm back in Missouri!
Eat local, folks!
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 573-722-5322.