The local food movement had a great impact on the industry, and it has given consumers a new appreciation for the importance of sustainable farming practices. The growth of the local food movement brought increased consumer awareness of issues ranging from food waste to Mad cow disease and E. coli outbreaks. As consumer demands have grown, big brands have responded by adapting their methods to keep up with the demand. But is this new movement worth all of the hype?
The benefits of eating locally produced food are numerous. The local food movement supports the development of small, sustainable farms. In 2012, local and regional food sales amounted to $6.1 billion. Local sourcing is a priority for the USDA. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue recently announced hundreds of millions of dollars for local food programs, value-added market growth, and food hubs. Those who are interested in supporting this trend should consider the following points.
The "farm-to-table" concept began as a hippie's philosophy and started influencing more formal structures in the food industry. In Oregon, "Organically Grown" opened in 1979. Carlo Perini founded the Slow Food Organization in 1986. Alice Waters championed local, sustainable agriculture in her 1971 book "Chez Panisse" and in Boulder, CO, Kimbal Musk started "The Kitchen." Despite the modest beginnings of the movement, the farm-to-table movement has grown exponentially.
Community supported agriculture (CSA) began almost simultaneously in Switzerland, Germany and Japan. In Japan, a group of women pioneered a direct relationship with local farmers and dubbed the system "teikei," which translates to "putting a face on the food." Many European CSA-style farms were inspired by the idea. Today, more than 50,000 CSAs are in operation. The benefits of CSAs are plentiful and diverse.
In CSA farming, growers and consumers share risks and benefits. Shareholders buy a share of the farm's production and receive regular deliveries of the bounty. The benefit to both the farm and the community is that the farmer is not alone bearing the burdens of conventional marketing and distribution. Shareholders are also able to make a difference in the food waste problem, which is another significant advantage of CSA.
As the world continues to shift to local, organic, and sustainable food , concerns over mad cow disease are rising. The Food and Drug Administration announces new safety measures to prevent the spread of mad cow disease. These measures include banning chicken waste and restaurant meat scraps from cattle feed. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission also begins an investigation into whether the United States had advance knowledge of the disease before the public announcement. Meanwhile, Charlene Singh, the first human case of the disease, contracts the disease and becomes the first person in the United States to be diagnosed with the deadly illness.
Since the discovery of the disease in England in 1986, mad cow disease has become a global issue, restricting the export market for British beef. While the government insists that mad cow disease poses a very small risk to human health, the situation is complicated and controversial. Scientists still do not know what causes the disease, how it spreads, or how it is transmitted. In North America, one case of the disease was confirmed on May 20. Mad cow disease is also known to cause variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which affects brain and spinal cord tissue in infected animals.
Although recent industry regulations and federal rules have attempted to curb E. coli outbreaks, there's still no definitive answer about the source of the problem. For now, the CDC is urging consumers to throw out romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona, a state where the majority of lettuce is grown in winter months. The CDC found that most of the 84 people who became ill from the outbreak ate at a local restaurant, and that the majority of the affected individuals ate the romaine lettuce that was sold in bagged form. The strain of E. coli O157:H7 has a long history of being associated with cattle fecal matter, and it has been linked to recent outbreaks.
STEC, which produces toxins similar to those of Shigella dysenteriae, is a strain of E. coli that causes diarrhea. While most cases of E. coli infection will clear up after about five to seven days, symptoms may persist. In such a case, you should call your doctor for further treatment. If your diarrhea becomes bloody, it's a sign that you may be suffering from an infection caused by the STEC O157:H7 strain.
The perceived price of local food is one of the key factors determining whether people will purchase it or not. Since local producers don't benefit from massive economies of scale, they typically charge a premium. The small scale of local farming allows them to be more stable than national brands, making their prices more predictable. National brands rack up costs from transportation and middlemen, and local producers don't face these costs. Local food prices also benefit from this small scale, and thus protect consumers from intense inflation shocks.
However, many people are still skeptical about the benefits of buying local produce. One of the best examples of this is the program, which allows residents to double their food budget when they buy local produce. This program is being embraced by many cities across the U.S., and many other countries are following suit. This program not only lowers the cost of locally produced food, it ensures a fair income for farmers. While these programs do not directly affect the price of local food, they do make it more affordable for the average consumer.