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Small Businesses and USDA regulations [split from San Diego]

  • Josh Feb 17, 2011 01:36 PM
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(This thread was split from the San Diego board at: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/764427 and was prompted by this article: http://www.sandiegomagazine.com/media... -- The Chowhound Team)

Thanks for sharing. It's amazing to me how people in the US can blather on and on about how "free" we are, yet a business can be forced to close over this kind of excessive meddling from the nanny state. Pretty shocking that nobody in Europe has dropped dead from eating all that dangerous salami and cheese.

What's really galling about this is that AFAIK nobody's ever gotten sick from anything sold by Knight, but the agribusiness conglomerates can have outbreaks of E.coli-tainted meat and produce, yet keep on running thanks to their lobbying of Congress and the cozy relationship between industry and regulatory bodies.

Who benefits from Knight being forced out of business? Nobody at all. How sad and unnecessary. I hope this inspires people to write their congresspeople.

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  1. " It's amazing to me how people in the US can blather on and on about how "free" we are, yet a business can be forced to close over this kind of excessive meddling from the nanny state. Pretty shocking that nobody in Europe has dropped dead from eating all that dangerous salami and cheese" - You are mixing up two different things. People in Europe are much less afraid to eat cheese from unpasteurized milk, are much less worried about charcuterie etc. On the other side the paperwork, bureaucracy etc in Europe to establish, run etc any business is much more extensive than in the US. In some countries, like Germany, with their apprenticeship/craftmanship system somebody like Ray couldn't even start such a business like Knight Salumi. You might not like the USDA and their influence but it is not that bad compared to the European system

    1. The big problem is big business lobbyists. The industrial scale processing companies are responsible for virtually all food borne illness yet they lobby Congress to force the little guy to undergo the same expensive over sight even though the artisan producers put out a much better product which in waaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyy less likely to be contaminated and even if it is it would effect dozens instead of tens of thousands. I do think local businesses try harder because they literally know their customers first hand and just one bad batch could destroy their entire business so they try a lot harder. Really regulations like this and the regulations on unpasteurized cheese are just big business's way of running the competition out of business.

      A much more nonsensical approach would be for the government to spend it's limited inspection manpower and budget on the big guys who are most likely to harm tens of thousands across multiple states instead of the small mom & pop which local word of mouth and market forces can effectively regulate.

      27 Replies
      1. re: oerdin

        "The industrial scale processing companies are responsible for virtually all food borne illness"

        "though the artisan producers put out a much better product which in waaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyy less likely to be contaminated"

        You have the emprical data to support these sweeping generalizations? There is, perhaps, results of research, or peer-reviewed studies that would back up your position?

        1. re: DiningDiva

          I'd like to see that, too- where can we find it?

          1. re: Fake Name

            Well, maybe somewhat tangential, but the raw milk folks have TONS of data, lab work, and anecdotal experience that supports their claim of safety for raw milk, most of which comes from small, family-owned farms.

            Here are a few samples:

            http://www.realmilk.com/rawmilkovervi...

            http://www.rawmilk.org/resources.php

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_S...

            1. re: bizzwriter

              I'm a supporter of raw milk, cheese and also for the legalization of drugs (except antibiotics) but studies from the raw milk folks are likely to be "tainted".

              Oh, how I crack myself up!

              1. re: bizzwriter

                To be fair, raw milk producers aren't immune to contaminating their products, and it happens enough to keep the government from being lax on raw milk products.
                Just a quick googling and from memory:

                http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/02...

                http://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireSt...

                http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jan/...

            2. re: DiningDiva

              One of the big reasons that right away turned me off of Knight Salumi was the high percentage of product that had voids in them. To me it read of poor technique and was far from what I, albeit as a customer and not as a tradesman, would ever consider to be artisan.

              I don't ever recall having come across voids in any other dry Salumi, whether commercially produced or hand-packed by an artisan supplier.

              While I love to support our local producers, I often feel that in San Diego we are particularly prone to fawn over them.

              1. re: cgfan

                One could argue that Knight would eventually solve that problem through reinvestment in better equipment and/or experience. Better to have a local artisan salumeria with fixable issues than none at all, IMO.

                1. re: Josh

                  Yah but, you'd better have that issue resolved before you open to the public. Voids, air pockets, in the making of dried sausages, of any type, is a major mistake.

                  1. re: Josh

                    If it were an aesthetic issue alone, I would've ignored it up to a point, but my understanding is that voids such as this is a big no-no, that it can allow for the unchecked growth of harmful bacteria. I've never made my own chacuterie, but what I've read on my own leads me to believe that such a defect is unacceptable.

                    It's one thing if the aesthetics are off, but quite another if the customer is put at risk.

                2. re: DiningDiva

                  Leaving studies aside for a moment, the small scale producer by definition has less ability to sicken large numbers of people due to the much smaller customer base they can reach.

                  1. re: Josh

                    Well, if we're going to speculate on speculation, I'd say a larger producer is better capitalized and thereby more able to maintain a higher standard for equipment and maintenance. Further, a larger, more capitalized company can discard batches of defective merchandise and survive. Therefore, I further speculate a small enterprise would be more likely to release sub-par product with lower sanitary standards as they can't absorb the loss.

                    This speculation should not be considered an endorsement of either paradigm- there are advantages to both. But I'm not willing to give either a pass on quality nor cleanliness.

                    1. re: Fake Name

                      Maybe a simpler analogy, with regard to laws and regulations, would be if you own a Rolls Royce or a Honda Civic are you both required to stop at a red light.

                      1. re: cstr

                        Maybe an even better analogy- would you rather trust your child in the back seat of a car made to NTSB standard, or a Radio Flyer with a 460 Ford and a 9" Dana locker rear end, seats mounted on a sheet of plywood that doubles as a wing?

                        Don't get me wrong- the NTSB car is a bore. And the Radio Flyer will be a helluva ride if it works right.

                        1. re: Fake Name

                          A super charged Radio Flyer!! may dream as a kid!

                          1. re: Fake Name

                            The NTSB isn't owned by the industries they regulate. Big difference.

                            Read up on the revolving door between the USDA and big agribusiness and you might be less sanguine.

                        2. re: Fake Name

                          And yet, when you read of E.coli outbreaks tied to tainted meat or produce, it's always from large conglomerates, not small producers. In theory your argument makes sense, but you're forgetting about the profit motive which demands high volume in the least amount of time possible.

                          In Fast Food Nation, I believe, Eric Schlosser writes about how slaughterhouse workers are happier when they're processing carcasses for sale to the EU, because it means slower line speeds, part of the EU's demands when purchasing meat from American suppliers. Slower line speeds means less likelihood of contamination, since the slaughterhouse workers are less likely to perforate the cow's digestive tracts.

                          1. re: Josh

                            The reason why you hear about the 'bigs' and not the little guy is that the bigs are news worthy and could possibly effect large metro areas. The little guy is just a tiny speck, a pimple, on the behind of the market and if there's an issue it'll most likely never get noticed unless someone dies from their product..

                            1. re: cstr

                              So without any evidence to support your contention, I'm supposed to simply take your word for it that people are routinely sickened by food from small producers?

                              The thing is, people HAVE died from the products sold by big agribusiness. E.coli didn't even exist in a form harmful to humans until the widespread use of CAFOs, which is a recent practice.

                              Please, let's stick to the things we have facts and evidence to support, not conjecture.

                              1. re: Josh

                                "Please, let's stick to the things we have facts and evidence to support, not conjecture."

                                Party Pooper.

                                (that's an E.coli joke)

                                1. re: Josh

                                  Never said that small producers make people sick, you said that . I do agree people HAVE died from the bigs. The 'network news' only reports what it wants and is, in their opinon, important. What I said was, Joe the butcher and sausage maker isn't important enough to report unless there's a tragedy.

                              2. re: Josh

                                Josh, I'll think you'll appreciate this. I was out earlier today and stopped by Ralph's to pick up canned cat food (10/$4).

                                I was planning to stop by Iowa Meat Farms and pick up some ground beef, pork and veal for meatloaf but thought I'd see what Ralph's had in the way of ground beef, and I was hoping they had some ground chuck. The vast majority of the ground beef that they had was in prepackaged chubs of various sizes and emblazend "80/20", "lean" and so forth, none had any identifier as to the cuts or parts of the animal that were use. Just a generic "ground beef". There were a few paltry tray packs of ground sirloin. I kept staring at these chubs and thinking "this is so wrong", "I can't even see it, how do I know what it even looks like". Then I had images of these poor cows going in one side of an enormous, nameless slaughterhouse and pooping out the other side all done up in nice neat little chubs. Then I realized what was in those chubs could have been Soylent Green for all I knew. And at that point I knew I had to leave the meat department or risk seriously considering becoming a vegetarian.

                                Now, I've been in slaugherhouses, meat packaging plants, large scale processors of raw to finished products. I've been in plants that are USDA inspected. plants that required a USDA inspector on site all the time and plants that had their own labs on premises for continual testing. After a while you kind of get innured and take things for granted...that is until a little innocuous chub of ground beef cames along to remind that some of our generally accepted methods are really not so humane and we really don't know much about where our food really comes from.

                                All the more reason for buying fresh and local

                                -----
                                Iowa Meat Farms
                                6041 Mission Gorge Rd, San Diego, CA 92120

                                1. re: DiningDiva

                                  DD, be a little more fair & balanced, if you've been to slaughterhouses, you also know that those places are disinfected, sanitized and inspected every night. Although nothing is perfect or guaranteed, it is the process de jour. Even without Josh's standards, I'd never purchase a chub of ground beef at a mega mart, that's one item I grind myself. I'd never thought you'd go there for meat. To get back on topic, there is a salumeria in Boston, it's the 'only place' I'd buy dry cured sausages etc.

                                  1. re: cstr

                                    cstr, yes, you are right most processing plants are routinely cleaned and sanitize; most of them have extensive and detailed HAACP programs in place.

                                    I didn't go to Ralph's for meat, nor did I buy meat there. I just went for the cat food.

                                    1. re: cstr

                                      Let's not get into middle-ground fallacy territory, please. What's the other side of this discussion? An agribusiness executive extolling the virtues of cheap corn-fed beef being a patriotic enterprise like mom and apple pie? Citing Fox News slogans in defense of your point is probably a non-starter, too, FYI.

                                      1. re: Josh

                                        That's what you're interpeting out of this, your fixaction of corn fed whatever's and the fair & balanced obiviously bothers you, but DD did clarify the process of rules being enforced to clean meat plants, correct. You didn't answer my comment, cause you can't defend yours. Please show where I stated, "small producers make people sick" , what you interpert is quite different from what's written.

                                    2. re: DiningDiva

                                      DD, by chance have you ever come across the work of Temple Grandin? A very interesting and influential lady who has brought a lot of keen insight to the handling of cattle at the industrial scale. I follow her more for my pet interest in neurology where she's been followed as a case study for more than a decade, most specifically in the books of Oliver Sacks.

                                      1. re: cgfan

                                        cgfan, I have, indeed, come across the work of Temple Grandin - and - Oliver Sacks. Try as I might, I just could not get into Sacks. I've only skimmed soem of the Grandin stuff

                          2. On the other hand, an executive of the Peanut Corporation of America (in Georgia) a few years ago decided to ignore a lab report warning that his peanut mash product was infected with salmonella and sent it to market anyway. His market was 300 companies that used the mash to make peanut confections, cookies, etc. These responsible manufacturers, who used the product in good faith, ended up making hundreds of kids sick---nine died. Now, does this prove that the free market is sufficent regulation? You might think so, since PCA was driven out of business, but that's probably cold comfort to the parents of the nine dead children. However, PCA is now back in business and has also rewritten the Wikipedia entry, sanitizing the company's role. I don't know what happened to the PCA exec who chose to think he knew better than the regulators. Food regulation exists for a reason.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Querencia

                              Querencia, your point is well taken. As noted by the list mods above, this discussion was split from another thread and is now out of context. A local salumi vendor was alledgedly forced out of business by the USDA, NOT because of the quality of safey of his product but because of paperwork deficiencies. The comments above when taken in context (and sequence) of the original thread actually do make sense.