If you ever needed a reason to eat fruits and vegetables that were grown by people you know and trust, read this week’s news reports about dead pets and contaminated chickens.
At least 4,000 dogs and cats have died and thousands more have gotten sick from pet food manufactured in China that contains melamine. Melamine is an industrial chemical that’s supposed to be made into plastic plates, among other things. Instead, it appears to have been intentionally added to animal feed to trick Chinese farmers into thinking they’re buying protein. It’s ended up in pet food, where it hasn’t turned dogs and cats into durable dinnerware. it’s killed them.
Here’s where the story goes from bad to worse. It turns out that the melamine is showing up in chicken feed, too. On Friday, reported the Associated Press, officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency placed a hold on 20 million chickens raised for market in several states because their feed was mixed with pet food containing melamine.
We don’t know yet if the chickens could harm us. And the 20 million chickens represent a tiny proportion of the 9 billion chickens raised every year in the U.S.
Still, it’s bone chilling to think that we could be eating poultry that was intentionally fed industrial chemicals rather than actual nutrients.
It’s at grim times like these that I’m reminded of the value of locally grown, organic food. When I shop at my farmers market, I have a chance to look the person who grew my tomatoes or raised my eggs directly in the eye. I suppose it’s possible they’d try to cheat me, harm me even, by spiking their feed or their soil with toxic chemicals that might somehow temporarily enrich them while devastating me. But I doubt it. They have too much to lose — not just money or business, but the actual human relationship with their customers that is as valuable to them as it is to us.
Yes, I relish the delicious quality of the locally grown, organic food I buy. But just as much, I savor the accountability and trust I have in the grower.
Buy local. And look the grower in the eye when you do.