The Case of the Let­tuce Dis­ap­pear­ance

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Keith­lin Ca­roo

About a week ago, let­tuce—of all things— caught the at­ten­tion of our lo­cal me­dia houses and the head­lines were in­ex­cus­able: “Massy Stores Pull Ro­maine Let­tuce From Shelves”. The ar­ti­cle in­di­cated that the su­per­mar­ket chain had to re­move ev­ery sin­gle spec­i­men of ro­maine let­tuce on its shelves af­ter re­ceiv­ing an alert from the United States Cen­tre for Dis­ease Con­trol that ad­vised against con­sum­ing im­ported ro­maine let­tuce. It was re­ported that there was an out­break of E. coli in­fec­tions linked to ro­maine let­tuce in the United States and Canada. Ad­di­tional sources re­vealed that the su­per­mar­ket chain had to re­move this item in 17 su­per­mar­kets across four coun­tries.

I won­der if we need an ac­tual E. coli out­break in Saint Lu­cia for us to re­al­ize the im­por­tance of im­port­sub­sti­tu­tion and the draw­backs of our in­creas­ing de­pen­dence on foods from out­side, par­tic­u­larly when many of these items can be grown lo­cally. This is not the first time that I have writ­ten about im­port­sub­sti­tu­tion, nor will it be the last (if we con­tinue in this down­ward trend). But if our over $120 mil­lion im­port bill in fruits and vegeta­bles doesn’t sway the pub­lic or pri­vate-sec­tor from eat­ing for­eign foods, then maybe a health cri­sis will.

It’s time that Saint Lu­cians aim to be on the fore­front of in­no­va­tion in­stead of the brink of dis­as­ter, and in­vest in mea­sures to strengthen the com­mer­cial­iza­tion of fruits and vegeta­bles by our lo­cal farm­ers. Now many may take the easy way out and blame the su­per­mar­ket chain for their over-re­liance on im­ported foods, but it also starts at the bot­tom of the food chain. While many of us are quick to crit­i­cize and pa­rade around say­ing, “Buy Loca,l” how many of us ac­tu­ally prac­tise what we preach? Fur­ther­more, how much in­vest­ment has gone into sup­port­ing the grow­ing num­ber of hy­dro­ponic let­tuce farm­ers in Saint Lu­cia?

Let’s face it, we are all to blame in this lat­est dis­as­ter of Saint Lu­cia’s food in­se­cu­rity. In many ways it’s dis­heart­en­ing and even em­bar­rass­ing that an is­land whose for­mer eco­nomic driver was agri­cul­ture, now feeds off im­ported pro­duce. The ques­tion re­mains: What if we did have an E. coli out­break? The ef­fects of a dis­ease like this could eas­ily wipe out a tiny na­tion, es­pe­cially given the fact that we do not have the ap­pro­pri­ate health­care fa­cil­i­ties to tackle an out­break. All I can say is think be­fore you eat and buy lo­cal. Not to sound dra­matic but, at this point, it could be the dif­fer­ence be­tween life and death.

Will it take a food-re­lated out­break for us to re­al­ize the ben­e­fits of im­port-sub­sti­tu­tion?

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