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Pundit’s Mailbag – When Children Are At Stake: How Can Schools Prioritize Local Over Safe?

Our piece, Pundit’s Mailbag — The End Of The Yeoman Farmer? Does Society Care Enough About PTI And FSMA To Put The Small Farmer Out Of Business? brought this note exploring the way “loopholes and exemptions” can have consequences that we better deal with up front:

It seems the loopholes and exemptions also have far-reaching effects in terms of what our school children are eating:  

San Diego Unified School District: What is Farm to School

It is notable that there is no mention of food safety in this initiative to bring small local and organic farm produce into our school children’s diets.

I would guess that the majority of the farms involved in these programs are not third-party audited for food safety.

— David Sasuga
Fresh Origins
San Marcos, California

David has contributed many insights to the Pundit including these:

Pundit’s Mailbag — Choice Of Farmer Lee Jones As Keynote Speaker Of IDEATION FRESH Foodservice Forum at The New York Produce Show And Conference Is A “Most Interesting Strategy”

Fraudulent Farmer’s Markets ‘Detrimental To Legitimate Farms, Retailers And To Consumers’

‘Spiked’ Organic Fertilizer Raises Consumer Doubts About Organic Definition

Pundit’s Mailbag — As ‘Spiked’ Organic Fertilizer Investigation Widens, Potential Grows For Weaker Consumer Confidence In All Fresh Produce

Pundit’s Mailbag — Putting Leadership First: Consider The Example Of The Ohio Florist’s Association

We have also dealt with the issue of schools and local, particularly in regard to UC Davis and its program. We discussed the matter in pieces such as these:

More On PMA Foodservice…Everyone Is In Favor Of Better Flavor But Is ‘Local’ A Solution Or An Ideology?

Dissecting The Meaning Of Local, Sustainable And Flavorful

Tom Reardon of Michigan State University Speaks Out: Wither Local

We Have Our Own Selves To Blame For Poor Growth In Consumption

David’s letter is intriguing because by bringing up school children, he lays bare the choices that are being made. Whatever the arguments for local or small-scale farming, could any parent forgive a school if a child ever died from a pathogen on produce and they learned that the school had elected to waive its requirements for all vendors to be third-party audited for food safety in order to buy from local farmers?

When Jr. Pundit Primo, aka William, fell and hit his head as a toddler, they asked us a bunch of question —  did he pass out, etc. — and when the questions were answered and the examination complete, they announced that they were 99.9% certain that he was just fine. There was, however, a 0.1% chance that in the middle of the night he might have a cerebral hemorrhage and die, and the only way to avoid that possibility was to do an MRI. This would mean staying up several hours, working to calm a frightened child and would cost about $5,000, including the test, reading it, etc.

It was completely irrational to do the test from any societal cost/benefit analysis, but this wasn’t a policy choice, this was our child. There was not a second of hesitation that we should do the test. What if we didn’t and something happened to William? How could we live with ourselves?

Yet schools, for no real reason other than trendiness, are bowing to demands to not enforce rigorous food safety standards. One day, one of the foodservice directors will have a grieving mother in his office and he will have to explain what benefit there was to buying local that was so substantial it was worth waiving requirements for third-party audits, or accepting lower audit standards than national shippers could provide. What in the world will that foodservice director have to say?

Many thanks to David Sasuga of Fresh Origins for bringing this emotional issue to our attention.

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