Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Michael Pollan got it right: The industrial food system has sickened us.

"Food safety."  What does it mean?  

Hillary Clinton ran on a presidential platform of merging the FDA and USDA into a centralized "food safety" agency.  Her connections to corporations affecting our food   are something that anyone looking into these bills might be interested in. 

Hillary Clinton's plan, the one in congress now, is actually the second big "food safety" plan promoted by the Clintons.  

Bill Clinton promoted the first.  Clinton, who immediately and significantly lowered poultry contamination standards when he got into office and gave us rBGH, benefitting Tysons and Monsanto, gave us HACCP, a system that substituted paperwork for inspections and left industry responsible for itself.  HACCP - in who developed it, who pushed it, who benefits.  For sure, safe local meat packers across the country who were forced to close, did not.  For sure, the public did not, for illnesses went up as inspections went down.   For sure the USDA inspectors who are suing to be able to inspect, did not.  The story of HACCP is clear in the ConAgra tale .  HACCP is still being fought by decent people who were crushed by it.

HACCP is a junior version of these bills in the sense that it didn't come with control over the entire food supply, or with draconian penalties to be applied by a single administrator with no judicial review, or with a multinational corporation set to run it from out of the White House .  But it gives an inkling of the dangers since greatly centralized our food supply into the hands of corporations causing the problems and destroyed small clean producers through the imposition of "food safety" regulations they couldn't possibly handle.

HACCP was promoted as "science-based" and preventive versus inspections panned as acting after the fact.  The "food safety" bills are being promoted in precisely this same way.  

""We need to complete the transformation of FSIS as a food safety agency, away from inspection  to a science-based public health agency."

"Science" is a word that suggests "solutions."  And yet industry promoting "science" has brought the problems, and uses "science" to cover the problems, not to eliminate them at their source, and not to deal with them as people would expect and want.   

The science that gets applied to the profit making (and/or corner-cutting) of industry comes in many forms -  antibiotics in animal feed to cope with filthy conditions, 100 times the normal dosages of antibiotics given to cows to hide illnesses from rBGH, genetically engineered feed for animals which is now related to new virulent e-coli strains , pasteurization of milk to mask filth from industrial dairies , irradiation of food, etc.  

"Science" - ballyhooed as a solution - is layered on again and again to try to make up for absence of commonsense - cleanliness, normal feed for animals, stopping any feed or procedure that is making animals ill rather than masking it, raising animals naturally.  Commonsense that operates with a constant concern for downstream effects on land, animals and people, and of how all these relate to each other, trumps "industry science" divorced from the consequences of its applications of profit-driven "solutions."  Commonsense, guided by cause and effect, has become the true science. 

The true floor under "food safety" - clean settings, normal feed, compassionate care of animals, and biodiversity in crops and animals - has been lowered by every form of cost cutting or profit-making.  With that floor of protection of nature removed, illnesses have come in, to which industry has applied one layer after another of "science" to cover what can't be covered, and bringing with it ever more disturbing problems.

The "food safety" bills in Congress were designed by industry whose methods include animal factories, antibiotics, genetic engineering of animal feed and drugs, pesticides, steroids and more - methods that not only threaten food, but the soil and water and biodiversity and normality of nature itself.  

Yet, the "food safety" bills threaten small farmers whose methods of growing food and raising animals are normal - methods which are protective of soil and water and which contribute to preserving and increasing biodiversity.  

"... Rising demand for meat has helped drive livestock production away from rural, mixed-farming systems, where farmers raise a few different species on a grass diet, toward intensive periurban and urban production of pigs and chickens. ... In Laos, 42 of the 45 outbreaks of avian flu in the spring of 2004 occurred on factory farms, and 38 were in the capital, Vientiane (the few small farms in the city where outbreaks occurred were located close to commercial operations). In Nigeria, the first cases of avian flu were found in an industrial broiler operation; it spread from that 46,000-bird farm to 30 other factory farms ..."

And after industry caused a disease that didn't exist before, when farmers raised their mixed breeds of animals outside and cared for them normally, what solution is applied?

"... At least 15 nations have restricted or banned free-range and backyard production of birds in an attempt to deal with avian flu on the ground, a move that may ultimately do more harm than good .... "Many of the world's estimated 800 million urban farmers, who raise crops and animals for food, transportation, and income in back yards and on rooftops, have been targeted unfairly by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization," she told participants at the AAAS event. "The socioeconomic importance of livestock to the world's poor cannot be overstated." ...

"In other disease epidemics, concern is usually focused on the most likely vector populations.  ... They know that if they can prevent what are sometimes only a handful of individuals from continuing to spread a disease, they can halt an outbreak and minimize future damage. 

"So why, when dealing with bird flu, are world health officials saving all their efforts to control the small producer instead of trying to close down the punishingly unsanitary and high-risk CAFOs that appear to be incubating it?"

With the "food safety" bills, why is an increase in industrial methods being considered when industrial methods brought things to where they are now?

Our highly centralized food system is very vulnerable to contamination-both deliberate and accidental. ... 

Instead of seizing on these threats as a reason to decentralize our food supply, the government is bringing in more regulation and technology. 

Progressive senators are proposing that we begin to regulate farms the way we regulate meat plants. That will put small farms out of business. So you see what happens as industrial agriculture fails and sickens us. The solutions promote more industrialization of agriculture. And that's what we need to resist.  [Author's emphasis.]

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