New Study: Local Food = Less Safety

New Study: Local Food = Less Safety

Consumers’ growing demands for both locally produced and safer foods are in conflict, according to a recent study by a North Carolina State University economist.


Examining the contaminated cantaloupe cases in Colorado last fall and in Indiana this past summer, Steve Sexton concludes that retailers’ dependence on smaller, local producers may come at the expense of food safety.

In a paper published in the University of California’s “Agricultural and Resource Economics Update,” Sexton states: “Growing reliance on local production sacrifices the benefits of specialization according to comparative advantage and scale economies that more concentrated production affords.”

He goes onto state that “food safety cannot improve as retailers make greater commitments to sourcing local products, all else being equal.” Sexton concludes:

“The two demands are conflicting. As local production increases, however, food safety is likely to decline as small firms optimally invest in disproportionately lower levels of food safety than larger firms because of higher average costs of food safety provision and less financial risk from food contamination.

“Local production also sacrifices comparative advantage in the production
and certification of food safety related to agronomic and climatic
conditions that impact handling practices.”

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Pancho says:

Excuse me, but I believe the largest and most widespread transgressions of food safety have occured at large grower shipper facilities. Poor practices are poor no matter how national or local the distribution is. All producers large and small equally need assistance and information to produce food as safely as possible.

Andrea says:

How is Mr. Sexton getting his data? I would be surprised if any large operation could match the safety systems on my small farm. Everything is under our control. As far as trace back, we can get to at least a half acre if not a specific part of that. The workers are committed to the safety program, and we have a stable work force. I don't see why our safety provisions cost more than those of a larger farm, as Mr. Sexton contends. Good procedures are good procedures regardless of scale. Our local buyers are not taking chances buying from us.

fishstyk says:

so i guess my garden harvests are really unsafe 😉

Southern Tier Farmer says:

This is yet another push to shut down small farmers. It was foretold with the creation of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Although small farms are exempt they will be pushed to implement the extensive sanitization procedures that the mega farms use. Now people like this Mr. Sexton will start whispering in the ears of our local groceery stores scaring them into thinking we all have contaminated produce and beware of the attorneys. If this was the case then how come the contaminations only occur on the large farms? I can provide traceability back to a row. I also know who planted, cultivated, harvested, washed, and sold the produce. I can even tell you if the person washed his hands after going to the bathroom. I can do all this with out needing multilingual posters. Anyone who thinks small farms aren't safe is ignorant and out of touch.

farming dutchman says:

people forget we live in a sanitary world, not a sterile world. Ever notice when there is a problem it tends to get much worse as you move a greater distance from the source of the comtamination. The reason is people have a certain amout of resistants to (bugs) they are expose to in their local area. Local produce has this natural effect going for it.

derek says:

mr sexton is an economist……not a farmer or even someone involved in the ag sector….need i say more.

Ken Mandley says:

Typical example of the bias against small producers that's endemic in the 'big' everything world. Because smaller producers are less likely to have the 'big' formal programs favored by beauracrats everywhere, the author jumps to the conclusion that the food supply will be less safe. Never mind that big producers who fail in food safety have a much wider consumer base to foist their tainted products on, never mind that the national news food scares have been as a result of big producers, never mind that formality of program does not equate to effectiveness of program. No, let's just keep spinning the data and over enough time, all the little guys will be forced out and we'll all have left is tastless, nutritionally void factory farm 'food'

Nicolas Naranja says:

There is a fatal flaw in their argument. The author assumes that large corporations are more likely to do things to mitigate food safety risks, because they have more to lose. If Dole has an outbreak, they have insurance and lawyers and whole lot of cash on hand. If a small 10 acre farm has an outbreak, they will be out of business completely. Large farms tend to invest in corporate structures that limit tax and risk liability. XYZ farming leases land from XYZ land co, and then XYZ sales sells the produce. A small 10 acre operation will tend to have one person doing everything and a salmonella outbreak would likely liquidate everything the person had. No land, no tractors, no money. That's a pretty big incentive to do things right.

Cathryn Gregory says:

How much money does big business have to throw at the small family farm? The small family farms must be making an impact in their billion dollar bottom line. I have yet to meet a small producer that does not go to extremes to maintain his production at the highest level of quality. If the farm does not, then there goes not only the physical assets but also the personal good name and reputation. Poorly managed small farms producing less than top quality crops do not stay around very long! Boo to the study.

Kenny Duzan says:

As a small grower in Missouri I know there is merit to this study and others. It is hard to take sides on this issue as small growers are a varied lot. I know from experience that some growers are informed, and at the top of their game on food safety. However, there are growers who have very low personal and professional hygiene standards. I know that there are people who will take strong exception to this study but we small growers should pay attention. Columbia, Missouri.

C.A. says:

I have personally dealt with food safety practices on both large and small scale. I think this pointing the finger at the small grower is biased. My question is this: "What current study is being done to find out how how much produce is actually contaminated after it is displayed on the shelf? Example: Parent outside grocery changes infant diaper in car. After diaper change is complete, carries soiled diaper and disposes of it in the trash container in front of store, walks in store grabs cart and begins to shop in the produce department and never, not once has wahed their hands. How often does this happen? Is this not a potential source of contamination? Just saying.

Very Small Farmer says:

While there are no doubt some small farms doing their best on food safety, most of the small farms I have seen would instantly fail any food safety audit. Typically they are unaware or unwilling to spent anything extra on food safety. Common violations: dogs, livestock, very small children in or too close to the crops, lack of hand washing facilities, open trash containers, no gloves, no hair nets, re-using harvest bins/ equipment without washing them, no rodent control, no foot baths, no food safety training for employees, dirty, messy facilities, the list goes on and on. Instead of pointing a finger at the larger farms, why not just clean up your own place?

L.L. Creasy, says:

I was very angry when I read this article but then I looked at the original publication. The economist did no research and presents no data to support his opinion. Just tongue flapping like most economists. The "small" farm he mentions does over $1 billion of business per year and has over 10,000 employees. That is not small in my neighborhood. He might discover, if he did any research, that the outbreaks he cites were from GAP cerified farm factories. V