Farming near a river bed is a great idea until it floods. Soil near riverbeds tends to be more fertile, producing more abundant crops. But when the river beds flood and drench contiguous farm land, the water can drag unwanted contaminants to the farmland, exposing health risks to anyone eating the crops from the flooded land. What kinds of contaminants? Anything in the flooded water: machine oil, sewage, garbage, medical waste, manure.
As a Midwesterner and a doctor with an interest in both public health and food, I really wanted to find out who in the federal government was monitoring food grown on flooded farms to make sure it stays safe, and then blog about it. So far, I have not found the federal agency responsible for monitoring the safety of food grown on flooded farms. I checked first with the Centers for Disease Control, but the spokesperson there said they only monitored disease outbreaks after they had started occurring. She suggested I call the Environmental Protection Agency. The woman I spoke with in media relations at the EPA here in Chicago also said that her agency was not responsible for food safety, only environmental toxins (I kind of thought they were linked), and suggested I call the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Now FEMA has gotten a bum rap since they kind of forgot to rescue tens of thousands of people in New Orleans when that city floodedin 2005, so I decided to give the agency a break and not push too hard. I asked a FEMA spokesperson in Wisconsin about food safety, one of the states hit hard by flooding and she set me straight: “We normally don’t even deal with that issue.”
So now I am asking you, dear Planetsave reader: Can you help me learn who is keeping our food supply safe? Please contact me with your suggestions in the comment section.
Photo thanks to Shannonpatrick17 at flickr.com.