In response to the E. coli 0157 outbreaks last year in bagged spinach, the USDA is considering a change in the federal regulations that could potentially require growers of all fresh leafy green vegetables to follow specified guidelines in the fields and during post-harvest handling. The federal rules would be similar to the California guidelines that were set by large-scale operations after the outbreaks. The guidelines include growing practices that discourage biodiversity and sustainable/organic farming practices, deplete soil fertility, and create “sterile” fields—methods that have not been scientifically proven to actually reduce E. coli 0157 bacteria but are certain to reduce biodiversity, harm wildlife, and burden family-scale farms.
Small- and medium-scale farmers would bear the greatest financial and logistical burden of such specified guidelines. For example, if the rules require testing for pathogens at every harvest—as they currently do in California—then large-scale farms that grow one type of crop and harvest only one to three times per season would pay much less than smaller and more diverse farms that continually harvest many types of vegetables. If regulations dictate a single set of growing practices and food safety measures, which are appropriate for large-scale “factory farms” but not for diverse family farms, we risk losing the very farms that grow leafy greens in a healthy and sustainable way. A one-size-fits-all regulation will not work!