No one seems to know where any of the food we eat comes from anymore. Nowadays it’s to the point where we don’t really know what’s contained within the contents of any given meal. Meanwhile, investigative journalists have released a number of books and documentaries citing various examples of negligence with regards to food safety, awful conditions of animals in slaughterhouses, and the use of dangerous pesticides used on produce, which often times is fused with controversial genetically modified organisms. But above all, the main concern is how elaborate the supply chain has become, effectively preventing anyone from drawing attention to violations of food safety best practices while allowing conglomerate food companies to muddy the waters behind closed doors.
Inevitably, this in turn has led to a rise of a community demanding a return to local. Yet, rather surprisingly, local does not always mean safer. As it turns out, keeping locally grown, unmodified produce and locally managed meats from becoming contaminated apparently poses more of a challenge than anyone had expected. The most obvious example is that of Mexican fast food chain Chipotle, which has experienced a variety of food borne illness outbreaks throughout the country in recent years.
Chipotle thrived on the fact that all of its meat and produce came from local farms, and that none of its fruits or vegetables used genetically modified organisms. The business model was in response to the outcry for shorter, more transparent supply chains, yet it ultimately ended up backfiring. But why?
Well one of the biggest problems is the fact that a higher number of suppliers means a higher margin for error. Whereas McDonald’s has some five or six suppliers of chicken for a given region, Chipotle needs a local supplier for every establishment. That means more inspections and less regimented protocol. Not to mention the fact that with local suppliers, there’s also often times a lack of experience, compared to the bigger companies that have remained in business for decades.
Professor John Quelch of the Harvard School of Public Health conceded that the larger companies do indeed have problems with the mistreatment of animals, which, from a moral standpoint, is a huge problem. However, as far as public health goes, the greater threat comes not from the conglomerates, but from the local, less regulated sources.