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Cook Organic not the Planet Campaign

With Salmonella Recall Expanding to Half a Billion Eggs, it's Time to Rethink 'Efficiency'

In his recent New York Times op-ed, "Math Lessons for Locavores" -- discussed at length by several contributors in the first edition of our new "Food Fight" feature" -- Stephen Budiansky writes:

The best way to make the most of these truly precious resources of land, favorable climates and human labor is to grow lettuce, oranges, wheat, peppers, bananas, whatever, in the places where they grow best and with the most efficient technologies -- and then pay the relatively tiny energy cost to get them to market, as we do with every other commodity in the economy.

Budiansky is essentially applying the doctrine of comparative advantage to food -- the idea that every region should specialize in producing what (if any) crop it can grow more cheaply than other regions, export it widely, and import everything else its residents need to eat.

In doing so, he is defending the intellectual basis for America's and what is fast becoming the global food system: concentrate production of key commodities in certain regions, and let the magic of trade ensure that everyone gets plenty to eat.

The massive ongoing recall of salmonella-tainted eggs -- which expanded this week to include another 170 million eggs, for a grand total of more than half a billion, with more possibly to come -- got me to thinking about Budiansky's defense of regional consolidation of food production for maximum efficiency.