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How safe is it?
We're questioning our food supply
Anna May Kinney

Thirty years ago, when I began trumpeting the virtues of organic gardening, growing vegetables without the help of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, few people paid much attention. At that time, only a handful of people believed that what was on and in our food supply could harm us, the average person never questioned the safety of the food supply.

Things are a lot different in today's world, there are courses at major universities on organic gardening and farming, more people than ever are reading labels before buying, today's consumer wants to know more about what is and is not in his food supply.

During the last four weeks, ever since foot and mouth disease broke out in England, I have received a large number of e-mails, even a few phone calls, asking me if I thought the meat supply here in Canada was safe, or where they could purchase organically raised beef?

First of all, from everything researches know, while foot and mouth is very contagious between certain animals, and people can carry the virus on their clothes for a certain time period, it has absolutely no effect on the human body. We just do not have the genetic makeup this virus needs to thrive on.

Second, there has not been one case of this disease in North America and every safety measure is in place to prevent there from being one. As far as foot and mouth is concerned I feel meat is safe to eat.

On the other hand, while there still has not been a case of Mad Cow here in Canada, this county's practice of feeding meat by products (other dead cows) to cattle is still going on. Even though the United States has stopped the process completely, Canada refuses to change its policy. We know that this process was responsible for the spread of Mad Cow in Europe and that only by stopping it will consumers feel that the meat they are getting is safe.

A lot of our meat comes from the US, where this practice is banned. So my personal view is that while about 50% of our beef comes for the US, and we have not had even one case of mad cow here in Canada, our meat should be considered safe, at least for the time being.

Some people asked if I still eat beef, even though Mad Cow and hoof and mouth are not here, I do avoid ground beef. My main concern is an illness that is more prevalent here in North America.

While we fear something that could kill us in ten, twenty or even thirty years, little attention is being given to a threat that is amongst us every day. In the U.S., 5,000 people die every year, while another 525,000 find themselves in the hospital because of consuming food with E. coli bacteria. There has been a series of systemic failures by government inspectors and the food industry that guarantee that potentially deadly microbes will find their way into a kitchen somewhere in North America. We just don't know where it will strike next.

There are many forms of E. coli that live in all animals, even humans, but this deadly, mutant form is most present in the stomach's of cattle. The problem occurs when livestock is butchered and the feces that are still within the animal's intestines come in contact with the meat. Once the meat is contaminated it can go on to infect other innocent food supplies.

Most people today know that ground beef has to be thoroughly cooked, no more pink or bloody rare hamburgers, we all know that steaks can still be eaten rare as long as every bit of the outside is well cooked (E. coli is only on the outside of the steak, any surface that may have come in contact with feces), but what many people do not know is that vegetables and fruit can also carry E. coli.

Last summer, 500 people took ill and one small child died after eating from a "salad" bar at a Sizzler Restaurant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. No one in this incident got ill from eating infected beef, investigators traced their illness back to one common denominator; everyone had eaten watermelon from the same salad bar. It is believed that the watermelon had either been sliced with a knife that had been used to cut the infected beef or it was cut on the same cutting board as the infected beef.

There have been quite a few scientific studies that prove our society is going backwards with their hygiene practices, hidden cameras have revealed how few people wash their hands after using a restroom, these same people go onto work behind meat counters and in restaurant kitchens. Seeing that parents no longer seem to have the time to teach children basic hygiene, maybe it's time to teach basic hygiene in the classroom.

Our young homemakers need to know that you cannot handle meat and then handle salad greens without washing your hands first. When preparing a meal always use a separate cutting board for fruit and vegetables than you use for cutting meat. To help keep our families and ourselves safe, we need to be constantly aware of the potential for cross contamination.

It's fair to say that when we go to a restaurant we are literally placing our lives and our children's lives in the hands of those preparing our dinner. Unless both the FDA and the Canadian Government inspectors change the lack way they are carrying out slaughterhouse inspection procedures, it's only time before another group of people are infected with this deadly bacteria. It's like playing a game of Russian roulette, who's going to get the next bullet?
The End