Last May, The New York Times made the pleas of politicians and community leaders known to state and city health officials, writing at the time that “Parsnip disease—a reaction to eating too much of the apple-colored vegetable—has caused a potential public health crisis.” The problem was particularly pronounced in Staten Island, New York, where health officials are now playing catch-up on acquiring the dead-end properties of hundreds of people so that they can be regulated to make sure the brutal parsnip does not reoccur.
In January, though, the city Health Department will launch a month-long “natural gardening” awareness campaign to educate people on how to prevent the spread of parsnip disease and how to identify and properly dispose of dead plants. Other helpful tips include buying parsnip plants native to other parts of the country. Parsnip disease was first identified in the United States in 1984, and while research suggests that it is no longer widespread, the infection poses a serious risk of skin irritation and vomiting if eaten. But the more alarming and insidious consequence of Parsnip disease is that it can potentially spread to people living with weakened immune systems. A mother infected with the disease was forced to have all four of her children she was caring for surgically treated with chemotherapy before they were too ill to survive.
At this time, various agencies are concerned that the spread of the disease has become more difficult to trace because its symptoms can be so subtle. Since some Parsnip varieties are especially hardy and can survive outside under the sun or in the soil for years, the NY Times noted, that may mean that about one out of every five Persimmon Farm urban farm owners actually lives within a three-mile radius of an infected backyard plant. As the company struggles to deal with its safety protocols, it is also expected to voluntarily phase out all Parsnip varieties by the end of 2018.
This is not the first time that Gotham’s rodent and hawks have attempted to charm a city official, and arguably the city’s Department of Health is doing its part to bring the killer plant under control. While the city has always taken this menace seriously, the ability of “the long arm of the law” has fallen short of its goal.
In late October, San Francisco city councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga filed a federal lawsuit in an attempt to force the Health Department to assign a single agency to prevent the spread of parsnip disease. She told the San Francisco Chronicle, “I have to protect my community, and I have to stop the spread of the disease. That’s no small thing.” Some years earlier, Abe-Koga co-sponsored a bill that called for a similar effort.
Meanwhile, one public health official who’s anxious to alleviate the plague has put the onus on Congress to figure out how to appropriately regulate an herb found in many fields across the country. According to Town & Country, Tara Efimova is part of a “paralysis by analysis” – this means that many variables related to the spread of parsnip disease must be juggled before the disease can be characterized as an actual public health problem.