July 27, 2017

Unhygienic – or just small scale? (Funbook version)

An article for The Doomsday Funbook (Jon Carpenter Books, February 2006), written in June 2001.

See ordering information for the Funbook.

Also see the two other versions of this article, the long version and the short version.


Throughout the world today governments, in accordance with WTO legislation, are imposing costly installations on small food producers on the premise that their activities are not hygienic, which few can afford and which thereby pushes many of them out of business.

Acccording to Professor Ross Hume Hall, in the state of Vermont, where cider has never been linked to any illness, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposes that all apple cider be pasteurised or else carry a label that warns consumers that the produce “might contain harmful bacteria known to cause serious illness”, a rule which would put many of the state’s small cider makers out of business. Needless to say, the two largest cider producers already pasteurise their product and would benefit from the losses of their 45 small competitors.

Hygiene laws are also killing off small cheese makers, particularly those who make their cheese from raw milk that the FDA claims to be unsafe, though an FDA study in 1988 identified nine cheese-related outbreaks of disease, all of which were caused by contaminated pasteurised cheese. In the UK, even though less than 1 percent of the cases of food poisoning have occurred as the result of the consumption of dairy produce of any kind, stringent hygiene laws have been passed that threaten small cheese producers, especially those who use unpasteurised milk.

In the state of Rio Grande do Sol in Brazil, as José Lutzenberger notes [Killing small farms in Brazil], hygiene laws ban free-range chickens on family farms, as they are accused of transmitting diseases to battery chickens. Chickens must also be packed in special rooms of a prescribed size, and the walls to the height of four metres must be tiled, which few small producers can afford. He also shows how hygiene laws are killing off citrus nurseries so that they can be taken over by the large citrus companies.

But hygiene regulations are not only being introduced to kill off small commercial food-producers and retailers. The big companies even seek to take over those activities that have always been fulfilled for free in the home itself. Cooking the family meal, they realise, can be monetised and commodified, thereby providing the food industry with a lucrative market. In the UK a compliant Ministry of Education has removed ‘domestic science’, which included cooking, from the National Curriculum, and a modernised, technology-intensive version has replaced it. It is appropriately called ‘food technology’, just as a kitchen is now referred to as a ‘food technology unit’. The curriculum includes teaching children how their food is manufactured (not cooked) in factories. This is seen as the most ‘economic’ way of producing what is at once the most nutritious, the most hygienic and hence, the safest food.

Students on the course learn how to make a pizza. Of course they must use hygienically produced ready-made ingredients. Once these have been chosen, they must be keyed into their computers. The students must then analyse the pizza for its ‘nutritional content’ and design the appropriate plastic packaging on which the nutritional information, calculated of course by the computer, will figure prominently.

If home kitchens are now seen as little more than relics of our unhygienic past, school kitchens, or rather ‘food technology units’, are also seen as terribly unhygienic and are being systematically closed down so that our children can be fed on cheap, industrial, mass-produced and largely devitalised food, churned out on the assembly-lines of large ultra-hygienic food catering companies.

But “the blame”, as Tim O’Brien of Compassion in World Farming makes it clear, “should not be heaped on hygiene in the kitchen but on the squalid conditions in the intensive farms.” He documents how factory farming, by its very nature, can only lead to the spread of disease. He rejects the prevalent view that small unhygienic food producers are responsible for the current food poisoning epidemics. Indeed, government policies have already killed off most of them. Instead, food production is now in the hands of a tiny number of massive companies with 80 percent of dairy production in the United States controlled by two companies – Parmalat and Suiza – and just five multinational food giants accounting for 80 percent of the UK grocery trade.

Of course, under such ‘ideal conditions’ food poisoning should now be a thing of the past, yet the very opposite is true. In the UK it has actually grown sevenfold, to a figure of approximately one million cases a year, and according to the Center for Disease Control 81 million Americans suffer from food poisoning every year, though the figure of 266 million that is suggested by Maurice Potts, one of its officials, may be closer to the mark.

This should make it perfectly clear that it is the big intensive food producers, not the small ones, that are responsible for the epidemic of food poisoning and, probably, for the growing incidence of other diseases as well.

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