A deadly outbreak of E. coli in 2006, traced to a California spinach field, spurred an overhaul of food-safety regulations in the leafy-greens industry -- and that’s got to be a good thing, right? Not so fast, says a study published last week in the journal Nature. Those regulations have contributed to a major loss of ecosystem diversity in California's Salinas Valley, while at the same time doing little to alleviate the risk of food-borne illness.
In an effort to reduce the potential for contamination, the industry put in place standards that, while technically voluntary, quickly became widespread. Big produce buyers, fearing further disease outbreaks and the public-relations disasters they create, only want to do business with farmers conforming to the new guidelines. “Nationwide, U.S. fruit and vegetable farmers report being pressured by commercial produce buyers to engage in land-use practices that are not conducive to wildlife and habitat conservation, in a scientifically questionable attempt to reduce food-borne illness risk,” the study reports.
Scientific American describes what this ends up looking like: