Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The peculiarly missing "food safety" bills

What has been missing from the stories of swine flu and CAFOs as their source is that small farms are not the source.  

The following Washington Post story about Smithfield farms giant pig CAFOs in Mexico being the source of the swine flu fits in neatly with a similar New York Times story this week, also about Smithfield but this article about one of its giant pig CAFOs in Eastern Europe and the 90% elimination of pig farmers in Rumania and 50% so far in Poland.   (These losses were easily predicted because it was clear they were actually planned.) 

After reading the articles, one comes away aware that pig CAFOs seem not to be good things, for pigs or people.  Sick-making for communities, disease-making for all of us, and small farmer-destroying.  

What is missing in these stories is that small farms don't do those things.  What is missing is vast difference in quality of food and of animal care and of environment between small farms and CAFOs, and how inestimably much has been lost in the EU in losing their farmers.  

But what is most distinctly missing is any mention of the "food safety" bills in Congress right now.  They are harmonized with the EU laws that led to CAFOs and to the destruction of so many farmers there, and being harmonized they will create the same regulations for CAFOs to take over and same the devastation for farmers and independent cattlemen the Europeans are suffering.

What is also missing is the fear of swine flu provides a convenient context for the USDA in pushing "tracing" of animals, i.e.  NAIS, the National Animal Identification System, on behalf of its close connections among the multinational agribusiness corporations.  NAIS is a WTO plan that will help its members like Smithfield, Cargill, and Tysons do two things - move cattle, pigs, poultry or other animals across international borders without having to worry about national health standards, and remove small farmers and independent cattlemen who are competition, just like has happened in the EU.  

Thanks to the mysterious appearance swine flu, the public is now primed to believe that tracing  diseased animals is somehow related to stopping the diseases.  But the media is not looking into the difference between CAFOs and farms or ranches.

CAFOs.  No one lives on these massively centralized industrial "facilities," least of all the owners.  There, animals are tortured, drugged, and forceed genetically engineered feed loaded with antibiotics and hormones to squeeze every ounce of life and size and dollar out of them while lagoons filled with their contaminated feces leach into and poison the neighboring ground water and fill the air with sulfur so strong it can kill.  

Small farms and ranches:  People live there proudly.  They are run by families who consider farming and ranching a calling and the land a blessing from their forefathers to protect, just as the animals are their pride and joy.  They produce safe food and raise healthy animals.  

So, it is rather large to omit any recognition that there are six alleged "food safety" bills in Congress concerning farms and CAFOs and animal diseases and they are not mentioned.  Is this because the bills are designed for CAFOs to be the only source of food standing?   Or is it because one might see who would control the "tracing" (the material for those already forced onto NAIS is being fed into a corporate data bank) and who would be destroyed by it?

The public, without media attention to the dangers of the bills, but exposed only to peanut fear and flu fear, must decide whether to listen to the multinational corporations which run the CAFOs and have caused diseases or to their congressional friends, DeLauro, Peterson, Scott, ... (who receive large Agribusiness PAC donations) who say that "tracing" (NAIS) is needed to protect us from animal diseases.  

Or does the public listen to independent cattlemen who have had to actually fight the USDA to keep out animal diseases or to small farmers who join with cattlemen in saying that  NAIS will wipe them all out and thus leave the public with only CAFOs and more diseases?   They both vehemently oppose NAIS ( in numbers over 90%)  and just want to continue to raising healthy animals in ways that haven't made their neighbors sick or hurt the land or water. And right now the US has the lowest rate of animal diseases in the world, having relied on what has proved to be a thoroughly effective means of keeping track of animals:  affordable, good old plastics eartags, common sense paper work filed with the vet, keeping diseased animals out of the country.    

Extraordinarily, the USDA is pushing to bring cattle in from countries where diseases like Mad Cow, tuberculosis (for cattle), and other diseases exist, while seemingly contradictorily urging the necessity of NAIS to track diseases.  But it is not contradictory.  The "food safety" bills give corporations like Smithfield just what they want - easy movement of any animals - sick or not - across international borders, NAIS to eliminate farmers (and do potentially more), and CAFOs.  

The full field to themselves.

The WTO and its corporate members are hoping the public is so unsettled by fear from the swine flu that it will choose "tracing" animal diseases (which conveniently wipes out small farmers in the process) over noticing who and what is actually causing the diseases.  The WTO hopes the public doesn't remember that:

During the debate on approving the WTO Agreement, Congress was justifiably worried that the multinational pact was in conflict with U.S. Sovereignty.  Arguments for ratification were vehemently endorsed by Clinton Administration officials who were eager to get the agreement past Congress. Congressional fears were lulled by the Administration pointing out Congress is ultimately responsible for changing the laws of the United States; and second, the U.S. is entitled to withdraw from the WTO.  Also a feature of the Uruguay Round agreements are described as follows:

The URAA puts U.S. sovereignty and U.S. law under perfect protection. According to the Act, if there is a conflict between U.S. and any of the Uruguay Round agreements, U.S. law will take precedence regardless when U.S. law is enacted. § 3512 (a) states: "No provision of any of the Uruguay Round Agreements, nor the application of any such provision to any person or circumstance, that is inconsistent with any law of the United States shall have effect." Specifically, implementing the WTO agreements shall not be construed to "amend or modify any law of the United States, including any law relating to (i) the protection of human, animal, or plant life or health, (ii) the protection of the environment, or (iii) worker safety", or to "limit any authority conferred under any law of the United States, including section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974." http://www.eastlaw.net/research/wto/wto2b.htm

American farmers and independent cattlemen, on the other hand, are hoping they are important enough to this country and associated deeply enough with safe food and healthy animals, that no one will fall for false promises of safety from corporations associated with animal and human diseases, environmental degradation, animal cruelty, and more, but will see clearly that small farmers and independent cattlemen are offering us safe animals, safe food, safe land, and health.  They are hoping the public can see through corporate "food safety" bills to the dangers and losses those bills hold in store for everyone.

Mexicans Blame Industrial Hog Farms
But Health Officials Have Found No Link to Recent Flu Outbreak

By Steve Fainaru

Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, May 10, 2009 

LA GLORIA, Mexico -- For years, farmers in the communities that dot this arid valley complained about the effects of the industrial pig farms that had multiplied near their fields.

The overpowering stench gave them headaches and drove them from their homes. Packs of wild dogs feasted on discarded pig carcasses and occasionally turned on their children and pets. There were fears that vast lagoons of excrement from more than 1 million hogs might seep into their groundwater.

Health officials have found no connection between the pig farms, owned and operated by Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, and the flu virus that paralyzed Mexico for much of the past two weeks. But the crisis, which appears to be abating, has inflamed tensions between the world's largest hog producer and the poor neighboring communities here that have long warned that the farms are a danger to their health.

"To the people of this community, what brought about this problem was the pig farms," said Guillermo Franco Vázquez, the mayor of Perote, a county seat that has 22 farming communities, including La Gloria, in its jurisdiction. 

For more ...

A U.S. Hog Giant Transforms Eastern Europe

Published: May 5, 2009

CENEI, ROMANIA — For centuries — from the Hapsburg Empire through Communist dictatorship — peasant farmers here have eked a living from hogs, driving horses along ancient pocked roads and whispering ritual prayers on butchering day.

Old customs and jobs are dying and the air itself is changing, however, transformed by an American newcomer, Smithfield Foods. Almost unnoticed by the rest of the Continent, the agribusiness giant has moved into Eastern Europe with the force of a factory engine, assembling networks of farms, breeding pigs on the fast track, and slaughtering them for every bit of meat and muscle that can be squeezed into a sausage.

The upheaval in the hog farm belts of Poland and Romania, the two largest E.U. members in Eastern Europe, ranks among the Continent's biggest agricultural transformations.

It also offers a window on how a Fortune 500 company based in Virginia operates in far-flung outposts. Smithfield has a joint venture in a Mexican hog farm located near where United Nations scientists are investigating a potential link between pigs and the new strain of influenza in humans. With the exact origins of the virus still in doubt, Smithfield emphasizes that the disease has struck none of its hogs or employees.

For more ... 


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