Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Better watch out for the cucumber that ate Hamburg, for he may eat your city soon

The number of people hit by a massive European outbreak of foodborne bacterial infections is a third bigger than previously known and a stunningly high number of patients suffer from a potentially deadly complication than can shut down their kidneys, officials said Wednesday. Associated Press

You'd better watch out for the eggplant that ate Chicago,
For he may eat your city soon.
You'd better watch out for the eggplant that ate Chicago,
If he's still hungry, the whole country's doomed.

Is this “simply” a very bad on-farm breakdown of Good Agricultural Practices? Is the outbreak the result of an exceptionally toxic warehouse somewhere in the supply chain? Could it possibly be agro-terrorism, as unthinkable as that prospect is? - The Packer
David Seaton's News Links
"Could it possibly be agro-terrorism, as unthinkable as that prospect is?" That is a haunting phrase if ever there was one.

Reasons for thinking it could be:
  • Osama bin Laden was killed recently and Al Qaeda has promised a spectacular response.
  • Documents captured way back in Tora-Bora days, showed that even at that time Al Qaeda was investigating using human feces cultures to develop deadly pathogens as a simple, cheap method with which to sabotage the enemy's (our) food distribution systems.
  • It is doable. Wholesale food distribution, loading, unloading, classifying, re-packing for retail: the vegetables and fruit we eat pass through countless hands on the way to our tables and many of those hands are minimum wage immigrants, therefore the selection of employees cannot be very rigorous... it is proving immensely difficult to determine exactly where the infection has its origins.
  • As we can see with the German, "cucumber panic" our food distribution systems, with their huge volume, are complex, sophisticated and vulnerable.  Moreover, if anything affects them, it receives enormous media coverage everywhere, because the idea that the food we buy in the supermarket might kill us is extremely disturbing to modern city dwellers entirely dependent on said distribution systems. If this proved to be Al Qaeda's work the resulting terror and paranoia would be indescribable
  • German public opinion is very unenthusiastic about Germany's participation in the war in Afghanistan and generally hostile to German military adventures of any kind. Jihadists poisoning cucumbers to kill German hausfraus might be the straw that breaks the camels back and has them running for the Afghan doors.
At this writing we don't yet know the exact causes of this infection, which is drawing the fascinated horror of the developed world. And even if turns out to be only fortuitous or simply human error or cupidity, we have been given a sobering reminder of how artificial our world has become and how helplessly vulnerable we might find ourselves in the midst of all our power and wealth. DS


Anonymous said...

"...the idea that the food we buy in the supermarket might kill us is extremely disturbing to modern city dwellers..."

Indeed. In a similar vein, shopping for food in Tokyo now is a very unsettling activity.

bailey said...

Rather than upping the fear mongering that lends to Cheny's One Percent Docrtine,, I'd rather encourage people to talk and understand food the way the French and Italians do...during business lunches, dinners and everything in between, they discuss food like its imporant.

Your take is always interesting, David, but I'm the kind of person that sails across the Atlantic aboard our 43 nauticat right after 9/11; that was the kind of response I had to all the fear, the jingoism. And look what the government's been able to do since then....the Patriot Act, the 4th amendemnt's invalid, the second's under strain as they're taking them from cars randomly, and free speech, well, they're wiping out websites they don't like.

Don't amp up the fear, there's enough to last a lifetime already, please.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

The French and the Italians eat supermarket food too. We live in an enormously vulnerable distribution system. If it isn't now, it'll be in the future. Globalization will probably finally prove to be a nightmare.

bailey said...

Many do buy at the supermarket, but washing and tending to the vegetables does help, and unlike other cultures, they talk about their food and make sure they know where it's coming from. (more than others, it's simply a cultural reality) My middle class Italian cousins all have their 'crisis' gardens, in the middle of Milan, makes me laugh.
Sure, globalization is a negative, we should all go local. More French and Italians do, actually. The Dutch, they haven't a clue about their food, could care less...shocking sometimes to change cultures as oft as we do....but you do learn allot.

I arrived here via Seattle (first farmer's market, and yes, living downtown, we always shopped there, for decades) and San Fran, well, these are foodie towns. I realize most of America is not like that..the dutch are like much of America's cities, small and mid size.

The French and Italian, food is what you talk about over a biz lunch. And I know all about that...

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

For the moment it looks like locally produced soy bean sprouts were carrying the E Coli... How did it get there?