Why Our Food is Full of Shit

Tom Harkin is making an effort to give FDA some teeth and more inspectors, for good reason:

Each year, 300,000 Americans are hospitalized and 5,000 die from food contamination, according to a Health and Human Services Department report that was released earlier this month. While the number of food facilities has increased, the percentage of inspections has decreased, to 22 percent in fiscal year 2008 from 29 percent in 2004.

Unfortunately, he’s running up against the oldest chestnut in the book, the myth of the noble farmer. That myth allows a farm spokesman to say this without being laughed out of the room:

“The way it’s written, it essentially gives the FDA the ability to go into any farm and tell people how to run their farms, which is inappropriate,” she said.

Every restaurant in the United States, even those owned by hard-working families, is subject to this kind of “inappropriate” oversight. But farmers, unlike restaurant owners, are salt-of-the-earth, romantic figures. So, instead of having the power to close down dirty farms, the FDA has to beg noble individualists like the Peanut Corporation of America to remove their salmonella-laden peanut butter from the market.

I’d like to believe that Harkin’s effort will bear fruit, but I’m afraid that we’re so in love with our bullshit fairy tales that we’d rather eat that shit than give up our cherished illusions.






80 replies
  1. 1
    cleek says:

    bad farmer, no subsidy for you!

  2. 2
    El Cid says:

    Another attempt to begin reversing Reagan’s assault on the regulatory apparatus as part of E. coli conservatism. The reduction in budgets and staffing was Reagan’s way of assaulting food production inspections even while the laws had remained the same. Shit-coated poultry and industrial hog farm producers raise cupfuls of shit-lagoon products to toast His Saintly Anti-Regulatory Goodness.

  3. 3
    gbear says:

    @cleek:

    bad farmer, no subsidy for you!

    You’ll be hearing from subsidized farmer Michele Bachmann soon…

  4. 4
    MikeJ says:

    I’d like for Harkin to go swimming in French Slough. Two weeks ago twenty million gallons of cow shit spilled into it, and then into the Snohomish.

  5. 5
    dmsilev says:

    Deborah Stockton, the executive director of the National Independent Consumers and Farmers Association, argued that the bill would grant the FDA too much authority.

    That name just screams “Front group created by PR agency and funded by some large companies or trade groups”.

    dms

  6. 6
    Jennifer says:

    Focusing on the farm is barking up the wrong tree, IMHO.

    Most of what gets produced on the farm these days ends up being highly processed into food-like substances. It’s in the processing where the contamination takes place most of the time.

    There are those cases where a raw food like spinach or strawberries is contaminated with e. coli due to contaminated irrigation water or whatnot, but the solution there is to properly wash the food before consuming it, either at a packaging facility or at home. For foods which are to be cooked, proper cooking destroys food pathogens (with the exception of botulism, which again, you aren’t going to be trying to stop on a farm – that kind of contamination only occurs in processed food).

    We have these big food recalls not because farms are filthy, but because we process food in industrial quantities. When you slaughter and process 200 heifers and grind all of them up into a huge vat of ground beef, the e. coli from the bit of cow feces on one carcass gets spread throughout – same thing as happened to the salmonella peanut butter. And even with greater FDA oversight, they’re never going to be able to test every bit of the ingredients that go into food in the factory. Your best bet for food safety (and overall health) from easiest to more difficult: don’t buy highly processed foods, make sure you cook meats to the correct temperature, sanitize kitchen surfaces regularly – especially when handling raw meats, don’t buy pre-packaged ground beef – have it ground at the store, wash down all product you plan to eat raw with a squirt of white vinegar followed by a squirt of hydrogen peroxide followed by a water rinse, and if you really want clean meat, start buying pasture-raised beef, pork and chicken.

  7. 7
    Silver Owl says:

    The U.S. seems like a suicidal nation to me.

    There is not much concern for the survival of the American people and no concern for the actual well being of the American people. As long as business entities are killing and making people sick for money it is seen as a good thing.

    I do not understand the desire to die for fairy tales.

  8. 8
    frankdawg says:

    I thought that story of beef rejected by Mexico because of contamination but just fine for the US would get some attention. Sadly, no!

    All those folks that loves them some Murika should be upset that the Mexican government is more careful with their population’s food health than the good ‘ol USA (USA! USA! USA!). Instead they chow down on tainted cow thinking a communist take over of the country is a real threat.

  9. 9
    Tom Betz says:

    Anyone who doubts the need for Harkin’s legislation should spend 90 minutes here.

    “Food, Inc.” should be mandatory viewing in every high school… it would save a lot more lives than “Red Asphalt”.

  10. 10

    I would point out that a big difference exists between what Joel Salatin does at Polyface Farm and how Tyson handles its poultry processing. I trust the small local farmers who I have come to know over some anonymous corporate executive who never met my kids. Just be careful how broad a brush you use when talking about “farmers” and the products they provide to the public. Not all farming is equal.

  11. 11
    Stroszek says:

    The noble farmer lets his chuck get flecked with cow shit, and the noble doctor charges you $10,000 for being hospitalized over an E. coli infection. I find it comforting that there’s so much inherent goodness in the world.

  12. 12
    Jennifer says:

    @The Grand Panjandrum: That’s what I was getting at.

    The young heifer that goes from the farm to the feedlot tends to be in good health. It’s only after it is converted into an eating machine where it is crowded into a feedlot with 10,000 of its brethren, all standing in feces up to their ankles, that the contamination occurs.

    Plus, it’s a horrible thing to turn an animal into a machine, which is what industrial meat production does. Bad for the animals, bad for the environment, and bad for us.

  13. 13
    beltane says:

    @Stroszek: But you can now pay that $10,000 bill in our new chicken currency, complete with salmonella tainted eggs.

  14. 14

    Our food is so highly suspect, the only thing you can totally trust these days is what you grow yourself. And, that goes for all beings, 2 and 4-footed.

    There is a direct relationship between food and disease, which I talk about through my nonprofit.

    I actually have an organic recipe contest right now to get folks thinking about making some changes. Lots of free pdf info downloads, great prizes, and a cinch to enter. Just go to http://bit.ly/boneappetit

  15. 15
    Pamela says:

    @Tom Betz: I saw Food Inc on PBS the other night and yes it’s definitely worth the watch. I thought of the young woman whose child died of ecoli and for the last 7 yrs (if I recall correctly) has been trying to get the government to do something about inspections. She is just getting the run around. Sad. I will contact my representatives about this legislation.

  16. 16
    ksmiami says:

    I left buying crap from big supermarkets ages ago. It is industrial poison and the chicken, produce, meat, eggs and milk from smaller producers and organic labels tastes and looks like the food we were meant to eat. I will avoid buying new shoes to purchase high quality food because it is a health investment as well as an enjoyable venture.

  17. 17
    colleeniem says:

    @Tom Betz: I agree, I couldn’t look away after the Dog special last week.
    The industrial food complex is just as disgusting as the military/industrial one is, and impacts us all daily.

  18. 18
    TruculentandUnreliable says:

    “But farmers, unlike restaurant owners, are salt-of-the-earth, romantic figures.”

    Well, the thing is that most of the food safety issues have to do with large, corporate farms, not smaller family farms. So, the image of the salt-of-the-earth farmer in general under these circumstances is wrong.

    That said, food regulations OFTEN disadvantage smaller farmers and producers. The regulations are co-crafted by the major industry players, so they’re directed at regulating wide-scale production and, of course, at trying to squeeze out smaller producers. For example, in order to be USDA inspected, a business must have a separate bathroom specifically for the inspector. So, if you want to slaughter chickens on your farm for your CSA customers, you can’t unless you have major funding, even if your food safety practices are impeccable. If you want to produce finished products that include meat, you can’t unless they’re USDA inspected, even if the original ingredients were already USDA inspected.

    I hate industry shills, and they definitely aren’t representing small farmers and producers in these circumstances, but our food regulatory system is fucked up.

  19. 19
    mistermix says:

    @The Grand Panjandrum: I’m sure there are many great small farms, but if they produce food that goes directly to the consumer, they should be inspected. Perhaps not by the FDA, but by some health authority.

    Hell, even hot dog carts get inspected.

  20. 20
    Violet says:

    @Tom Betz:

    “Food, Inc.” should be mandatory viewing in every high school….

    Totally agree. People should know where their food comes from. They don’t. “Food, Inc.” is the best instructional tool out there for explaining what is wrong with our current food system. Fantastic film.

  21. 21
    Tom Betz says:

    @The Grand Panjandrum: Unfortunately, farmers like Joel Salatin provide only a tiny percentage of the food available in supermarkets. Most of it comes from factory farmers like Carole Morison, who are contractually prohibited from talking about what they do for a living.

  22. 22

    @Jennifer: Yes! Every major overhaul of the Food Safety Inspection Service, including the latest– Hazard Analysis And Critical Control Point (HACCP) assaults community-based, small scale abattoirs prejudicially and encourage the proliferation and oligopolization of the centralized, industrial-scaled operations.

    The food safety system IS the problem. And adding more inspectors will not change one damn thing. It will only encourage the god-awful practices now entrenched in our corporate food processing system. If you care about what goes into your mouth and what goes into the mouths of our children then a complete revamping of the system is the only way to save the food supply. We are one terrorist attack, or one major corporate fuck up away from have our entire food supply decimated.

    ADDENDUM: Wasn’t it Einstein who said you can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created the problem?

  23. 23
    TruculentandUnreliable says:

    @Violet: I had a few issues with Food, Inc, but I do think it’s a great tool to get people talking.

    I also recommend King Corn. It’s quite excellent.

  24. 24
    MikeJ says:

    Some people might like Blood, Sweat and Takeaways too.

  25. 25
    TruculentandUnreliable says:

    @The Grand Panjandrum: Well, it’s the same problem that we have with everything else…corporate influence is ruining people’s dreams and killing people.

  26. 26

    @Tom Betz: I saw the movie. But my point in my later post stands. When clean milk farmers can’t put rBHF-free labels on their milk, and slaughterhouses voluntarily submitting every steer to a mad cow test get sued by the USDA, it’s pretty obvious who the USDA works for. And when our great nation now confines nearly twice as many people in jail as there are farmers, this steady centralization and the opaqueness it engenders can only progress toward a complete corporate takeover of our food supply.

  27. 27
    wrb says:

    @dmsilev:

    That name just screams “Front group created by PR agency and funded by some large companies or trade groups”.

    It it isn’t, which is what is curious about the article. It is an organization representing small-scale and organic growers and farmers’ markets.

    It causes me to suspect that this bill continues the tradition of health and inspection regulations written by agribusiness lobbyists that work to make small-scale and local food uncompetitive.

    For example, you have to take your animals to a slaughterhouse where there is an USDA inspector present if you want to sell the cuts. It might be hundreds of miles away. That works if you can fill a semi-trailer, and then are going to sell the meat in bulk, but not if you are taking custom orders and selling steadily to local restaurants. Driving two sheep a few hundred miles doesn’t pay.

    Our state chapter of the organization is trying to get some small-scale exemption. Some sort of bonded butcher’s license, I believe.

  28. 28
    Violet says:

    @TruculentandUnreliable:
    I haven’t seen “King Corn.” I have a friend who has a corn allergy, and life for her is almost unbearable. Corn is in everything. Literally everything.

    I didn’t think “Food, Inc.” was perfect, but it’s the best we’ve got. And for the most part people don’t know even a fraction of the stuff covered in “Food, Inc.” so if it breaks through that shell of ignorance then it’s all for the better.

  29. 29
    Island in Alabama says:

    Not only is Food, Inc. an amazing look into what’s gone horribly wrong with our food system, but it summarizes what the multinationals have done across our entire economy. In industry after industry, the mega corporations and our politicians have colluded to create regulations and oversight that destroy the ability of small and medium size businesses to compete, while overlooking the abuses of the oligarchic corporations that corrupt industry after industry while dehumanizing everyone who is associated with producing or consuming the product.

    Food, Inc. could be applied to Finance, Energy, Mass Media, etc.

    Watch Food, Inc. and consider what you’ve learned when you observe any American industry.

  30. 30
    Jennifer says:

    Other good resources for people who care about food quality: Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food. Thanks to reading both of these, I now buy only pastured meats & poultry, continue to grow some of my own food, buy from local certified-organic farms, and have changed my grocery shopping habits drastically. For example, the pasta I buy now has this listed on the ingredients label: Ingredients: wheat. If it has HFCS on the label, it doesn’t go into the cart.

    My shopping habits were always pretty good so it wasn’t that big of an adjustment for me – I never bought any of the frozen crap dinners or stuff like that anyway. In fact, I was able to force my local Kroger to purge the chemical-broth injected Tyson chicken from the store – about 10 years ago I bought a package of the stuff by accident (you know how they put “enhanced with up to 15% of a broth solution” in 6 point type on the label) … anyway, I got it home, and the shit was INEDIBLE it was so swimming in salt. Even the cat wouldn’t eat it. After about 2 months of not being able to buy chicken because they weren’t STOCKING anything else, I complained, pointing out to store management that first of all, I didn’t think I should be paying $2 per pound for fucking SALT WATER, and going on to point out that people on salt-restricted diets could no longer buy chicken in their store. About a month later, they re-introduced the non-injected chicken, and as the months passed, it took over more and more of the meat case, until they no longer carried the Tyson shit. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like it.

    My current hobbyhorse is trans fat – FDA labelling allows food packagers to label things as “0 grams of trans fat” per serving if it contains .5 gram or less of trans fat per serving. Fuck that shit – trans fat is poison in any quantity, and .5 gram isn’t “zero”. So now I scan all labels for the term “partially hydrogenated,” and if I find it, it goes back on the shelf.

  31. 31
    geg6 says:

    As a victim of the e coli contamination of spinach and a friend of someone who died from the green onions at ChiChi’s, I applaud any regulation of sanitary conditions at farms (especially the large corporate ones) and food processing plants. Since my bout with e coli, I am a huge fan of Alice Waters’ slow food philosophy of eating locally in season. Six months of continuous illness and tests and doctors with a weight loss of over forty pounds, taking me to under 95 pounds will convince you pretty quickly that spacey Alice isn’t so spacey about food.

  32. 32
    TruculentandUnreliable says:

    @Jennifer: The Omnivore’s Dilemma is great, and for anyone who is interested in locavorism and gardening, I LOVE Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I haven’t read Pollan’s new book yet, though the idea of “food rules” bugs a little.

    That Tyson shit is NASTY…I would buy mass-produced beef before I would ever buy commercial chicken or pork, as long as it wasn’t that pre-packaged, tri-gas shit. The husband noticed a couple of years ago that the industrial pork he cuts often has a weird, squishy knot near where the pig’s tail would be…it’s obviously from antibiotic injections. Vomit.

    Edited to add–I would only buy whole-muscle meats from commercial sources, though we do occasionally have supermarket ground beef that my husband has ground himself. It’s not the best choice ever, but if it’s a choice between organic beef and an industrial chicken, or industrial beef and an organic chicken, I would choose the latter.

  33. 33
    scarshapedstar says:

    Most of what gets produced on the farm these days ends up being highly processed into food-like substances. It’s in the processing where the contamination takes place most of the time.

    I respectfully call bullshit.

    You want to know why enterohemorrhagic E. coli is such a nightmare, there are two reasons:

    1) Factory farms, where cows stand ankle-high in shit their entire lives, and are fed massive doses of antibiotics their entire lives, lead to… cows covered in antibiotic-resistant fecal bacteria. Cows eating antibiotic-resistant fecal bacteria. Only an evolution-denier can fail to see where this leads.

    2) Also, when cows are fed with corn instead of grass, their stomachs become more acidic and the normal cow stomach bacteria are displaced by the horrible, toxin-producing E. coli O157:H7. And actually, these bacteria release toxins in self-defense if you try to treat them with antibiotics, so really all you can do is try to bind up the toxin.

    IT IS THE FARMERS’ FAULT. And by ‘farmers’, of course, I mean ‘faceless agribusiness conglomerates that co-opt the imagery of agrarian America’. They decided that economics of scale trumped EVERY other consideration when it came to our food; it costs far more to raise a corn-fed cow in a toxic lake of shit than it costs to let one meander around a goddamn field of grass like it’s been done for the past 12,000 years or so. These factory farms are environmental and public health disasters and they aren’t even efficient on a per-cow basis. All they do is cut down on the costs of transporting them to the processing plant.

    Now, processing often makes these problems worse, like grinding up meat from thousands of different cows into a big vat of hamburger, but it is simply not the proximate cause of food poisoning. Of course, since the farmer and the processor are basically the same company (unless they use a sharecropper arrangement like Tyson) they already know this.

  34. 34
    TruculentandUnreliable says:

    @scarshapedstar: Yeah, and I think that the American consumer needs to take some responsibility in this issue. We cannot continue consuming as much meat as we do and expect to have a safe* food supply. Current conditions necessitate that meat and dairy are manufactured on a wide scale…as long as animal products constitute a HUGE portion of the American diet, we can’t solve this problem.

    (Of course, I say this after talking about buying commercial beef, but nobody’s perfect).

    *There’s no such thing as a 100% “safe” food. But that’s life, and we can certainly cut down on the dangers we face due to industrial food practices.

  35. 35
    aimai says:

    I have to agree with scarshapedstar. I also think the advice to simply “wash things thoroughly” is incorrect. You *can’t* wash off the e.coli contamination in some vegetables–and you can’t cook everything out, either.

    The solution is *better data* and better regulation–you could easily create a group that represented small, organic, family farms who sell their produce in state or at farmer’s markets and regulate those separately from agribusinesses or fake family farms. But you have to collect the data, figure out where the weak points are, and then regulate the hell out of them.

    aimai

  36. 36
    RedKitten says:

    @Violet:

    I haven’t seen “King Corn.” I have a friend who has a corn allergy, and life for her is almost unbearable. Corn is in everything. Literally everything.

    Ditto. A former coworker of mine is allergic to corn AND is a Type 1 diabetic. I would go insane trying to build a diet around that.

  37. 37
    GregB says:

    American fast food restaurants=Obesity mills.

  38. 38
    Jennifer says:

    @scarshapedstar: You should read more carefully.

    I never equated factory feedlots with “farms” because they aren’t farms. They are industrial facilities devoted to forcing animals into become eating machines.

  39. 39
    James in WA says:

    Gah. Just another in the long list of reasons why I only eat local, in-season, and mostly out of my own backyard garden. Spending an entire weekend moving ten cubic yards of compost (like I’m doing this weekend) is hard work, but totally worth not buying into big Aggro in this country.

    I’m fortunate to live in an area where we not only can buy local for nearly everything we might need (and a lot of what we might want), but also can actually visit/tour the farms to see how they do things. Ranchers and farmers who do things sustainably are proud of their work, and eager to demonstrate it.

    Getting to know where your food comes from and how it is handled can be very enlightening.

  40. 40
    marcopolo says:

    I want to reiterate the importance of distinguishing between industrial farming (including industrial organic) & food production and the operations of small diversified farms. The vast majority of food safety/health/sustainability issues arise from monoculture food production (commodity crops grown on huge farms & and confined animal feed operations for cattle, pigs, and chickens) and then the industrial food processing that those commodity crops and CAFO animals undergo on the way to the supermarket. The food produced on small diversified farms generally takes a much more direct path to the dining room table both in terms of the number of processing steps and geographical distance covered and is less likely to harbor nasty pathogens because small diversified farms aren’t the gigantic petri dishes for them that the monoculture operations are.

    As a result, there is much more customer accountability for the smaller farms. Whereas the provenance of the food in the grocery store (or your fast food restaurant or you local school cafeteria) can be hard to know (remember that Cargill or IBP ground beef you bought probably contains material–meat is too generous a word to use–from at least several hundred animals), the meat and produce and other food you buy from the farmer at the farmer’s market came from one farm (and in the case of their ground beef from a single animal). If you get sick from something you bought at a farmer’s market you know who’s to blame and the impact on that local farmer is much more severe.

    That being said, there is certainly a place for health inspections at small farms, they just should not be subjected to the same inspection level and regimen including equipment & infrastructure requirements (and the costs associated with all of that) that the industrial producers face. Current ag safety regulations don’t tend to make those distinctions, and the industrial ag players are quite happy with the way this plays out for small producers. If you want a taste of how all this works read “Everything I Want to do is Illegal” by Joel Salatin.

    Although my first thought while reading this entry was unhappiness with its generalized reasoning, I am hopeful that folks reading the comments will come away better informed about the issues.

  41. 41
    wrb says:

    Another drawback to hauling your grass-fed animals to the USDA slaughterhouse, as is required by current “safety” regulations:

    Once there they stand in the same infected shit as the industrial animals do and get processed with the same equipment.

  42. 42
    MMonides says:

    Interesting, despite less use of refrigeration and artificial preservatives, France has 1,210 cases of food born illness per 100K population, to the US’ 26,000 per 100K.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F.....ted_States

  43. 43
    MMonides says:

    @mistermix:

    Hell, even hot dog carts get inspected.

    I have to tell you, having worked on outdoor carts in DC, there was very little inspecting and a whole lot of bribery involved. Don’t trust hot dog vendors.

  44. 44
    Jennifer says:

    OT, but Cole, could you get rid of the annoying pop-up audio for a free Wal-Mart gift card? For whatever reason my pop-up blocker doesn’t block it – and it’s definitely coming from this site because I never get it anywhere else.

    Fuck Wal-Mart. I wouldn’t step foot in one of their stores even if they were giving the shit away.

  45. 45
    TruculentandUnreliable says:

    @MMonides: I think the norovirus rates are interesting, and I wish that France collected data on them. I would imagine that their rates would be much lower, since they eat more home-prepared food than USAians do. Obviously, if people eat a lot of mass-produced food, it’s likely that more people will be sickened by the initial carrier of the virus.

    Also, hi!

  46. 46
    TruculentandUnreliable says:

    @Jennifer: Oh, that just popped up for me, too. It scared the shit out of me.

  47. 47
    canuckistani says:

    The entire American political system was designed to give greater political influence to farmers than city folk. So your local farmers ARE noble, in the sense that they belong to a higher political class than you.

  48. 48
    Alan says:

    @Jennifer:

    Focusing on the farm is barking up the wrong tree, IMHO.

    Except for the fact that much of the beef we consume is not raised on pastures of grass but on dirt mixed with their own manure. Moreover they’re fed grains that unnaturally stimulate toxic bacterial growth in their guts that is normally eliminated when cattle grazed on a natural diet of grass–primarily the reason they’re feed is laced with so much antibiotics.

    Grass-fed beef is not only the healthiest it’s the most humane.

  49. 49
    RSA says:

    @MMonides:

    Interesting, despite less use of refrigeration and artificial preservatives, France has 1,210 cases of food born illness per 100K population, to the US’ 26,000 per 100K.

    When my wife and I were living in Germany, in the late 1980s, the lack of space for a big fridge and such meant that grocery shopping had to be done almost every day. The positive side effect of the extra effort was fresher food, or at least that was my impression.

  50. 50
    Jennifer says:

    @Alan: Again, read more carefully.

    I noted that young heifers tend to be healthy when they go from the farm to the feedlot. I do not equate the two as being similar in any way.

    Most cattle are born on what we would recognize as real farms. They are raised on mother’s milk and pasture until weaning and being sent to the feedlot. In some cases the farmer contracts with the feedlot for “care” of the animal, such as it is, from that point until slaughter, with the feedlot operator subtracting out costs for feed, antibiotics, etc. from the final price the slaughtered carcass brings; the farmer gets paid the remainder. In other cases, the feedlot buys the young heifers before fattening them up.

    It’s not the farmer that’s causing the problem – it’s the feedlot, and they aren’t the same thing.

    As for the health, animal welfare, and environmental benefits of eating only pasture-raised animals, again, if you would read carefully, you’d realize I don’t need to be educated about those. I’ve been buying only pastured meat for the past 3 or 4 years.

  51. 51
    jonas says:

    The fact that Harkin is backing this is bad news — you bet your small family farm that this is a scheme bought and paid for by big agribusiness. What they do is write “safety” regulations that sound good on paper, but that only huge processors and suppliers are capable of affording, thus forcing out smaller competitors. The huge producers left standing then have the power to basically do whatever they want. Game, set, match big agribusiness. This is what happened to the meatpacking industry over the past two decades.

  52. 52
    trollhattan says:

    Can we add grazing reform into the mix? We operate federal grazing under a nineteenth century law, including the pricing (which is a tiny fraction of commercial grazing rates).

    http://www.sacbee.com/2010/04/.....waste.html

  53. 53
    WereBear says:

    I hope we are seeing the apex of multinational corporations; they could not continue without the bribery and artificial support of enabling regulators, while all the while they cloak themselves in the guise of Small Business Icons like the friendly neighborhood pharmacist and salt of the earth farmer.

    They are not big because they’re good at it; they’re big because they can rig the system.

    While they would deny it, they must have seen the energy crisis coming; thus, the spasm of raking in the money while they can.

    Wal-Mart & the like are a creature of cheap transport. Until we go back to sailing vessels and railroads, we won’t see that again; and when we do, the factor of Time will be in play again.

  54. 54
    Corner Stone says:

    @MikeJ: I Googled that, and the article calls it a “manure lagoon”.
    A manure lagoon.
    Boggled by this I am.

  55. 55
    Corner Stone says:

    @MMonides: If you can’t trust the local small businessman, who can you?
    Don’t you crush my dreams!

  56. 56
    mattt says:

    Farm inspectors may be the wrong way to go. Study and set standards, sure investigate incidents of violation and publicize poor practices. But let the plaintiff’s attorneys punish bad actors and provide the disincentive to selling dangerous food.

    If people trusted the gov’t less to keep an eye on the factory farms, they’d be more likely to support small local farmers, with local reputations. And seeing the practices a little more close-up, they’d be more likely to support healthy sustainable farming. Maybe.

    {edit: I see marcopolo already said some of this. Well, I second his motions!]

  57. 57

    “The way it’s written, it essentially gives the FDA the ability to go into any farm and tell people Archer Daniels Midland how to run their farms, which is inappropriate not what they pay me for,” she said.

    Fixed for accuracy.

  58. 58
    Corner Stone says:

    @mattt:

    And seeing the practices a little more close-up, they’d be more likely to support healthy sustainable farming. Maybe.

    Right up until the time they see the price per pound difference is $.20
    Done.

  59. 59
    cleek says:

    @Corner Stone:

    the article calls it a “manure lagoon”.

    i call it “eastern North Carolina”.

    the drive from our house to the beach can be a stinky one, in the summer time.

  60. 60
    Jennifer says:

    I think the larger issue here isn’t the need for more of this or that type of inspection or regulation. It’s that we’ve built a food supply system that creates a lot of bad unintended effects. In this as in just about every other thing you can name, over the past 30 – 40 years, the business model for agriculture shifted from “make a good product and a reasonable profit” to “make as much profit as you can, with a good or bad product.”

    Better inspection at CAFOs and slaughterhouses isn’t going to solve the problem of raising the cattle in e. coli petri dishes, the environmental problems caused by concentrating animal wastes the way CAFOs do, the moral issues of force-feeding an animal a diet nature did not equip it to eat or of crowding animals meant to graze on open land into small pens where they can’t even escape their own waste. Those conditions exist for only the purpose of making a few cents more per pound and supplying a processed food industry which, like agriculture, is organized around the principle of maximum profit rather than maximum food quality.

    We’re going to have these issues of food safety as long as people don’t care what goes into their mouths. A lot of that is ignorance; some people would choose to eat better food if they knew what they were eating. But there’s some huge barriers there – the “food culture” of this country is fast food; there are a lot of folks in this country middle-aged and younger who eat that shit daily and know nothing about cooking or preparing food at home. Then there’s the whole, “who cares if it’s shit or healthy?” brigage. Look at the teabaggers – what chance is there that educating them about the bad effects of the industrial food production system will alter their beliefs or behavoir? For these folks, maximum profit = maximum good, regardless of “externalized cost.” These are the types of people who, if a liberal says trans fats are bad and tries to get them out of the food supply, will run out and buy 100% trans fat to spread on their Big Bacon Deluxe because it will piss off liberals.

    Federal ag policy for the past 40 years has been entirely controlled by big agribusiness. The subsidy system and various rules and regulations all favor a bigger-is-better bias towards food production and put smaller producers at a disadvantage, as they were designed to do. If we really want to fix our food system in this country, probably the first place to start is with subsidies that favor smaller producers over large and a tiered system of rules and regulations which addresses the specific issues more common in small vs large producers and processors. And also, some public education about where our food comes from.

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    wrb says:

    I like the idea of a combination of training, licensing and bonding those raising grass fed free range beef to do their own slaughtering. The meat is bound to be safer that the industrial stuff, USDA inspection or no. Traveling or local licensed butchers serving these folks would be good too.

    This is already done in other fields where public health is at stake. In this state water well constructors are licensed and not inspected. If they knowingly break the rules they are out of work.

    Physicians aren’t inspected. They are trained and subject to lawsuit and disciplinary action. Etc.

    The structure of the current rules has much to do with preventing small-scale competition.

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    Jennifer says:

    If we were to succinctly sum up current government policy towards agriculture and the food supply in one sentence, it would be:

    Eat shit and die.

    Which gives me a good title for a blog post I’m working up on food issues.

  63. 63
    aceckhouse says:

    @TruculentandUnreliable:

    I don’t think you need a separate bathroom (although maybe you do for slaughterhouses); you do need a separate office with a dedicated phone (my parents run a USDA inspected non-slaughterhouse facility doing small-scale, artisanal work). But yeah, small-scale slaughterhouses (and thus small-scale farmers) have trouble under the current system. There’s some good thoughts on the issue (from my sister) here.

    The part of Food, Inc. that really got me was the story about the guy doing seed saving, and how ruthlessly he Monsanto went after him. Why is there such a shortage of infrastructure for sustainable farming in this country? In part because it’s been actively destroyed (like LA’s streetcars).

  64. 64
    Alan says:

    @Jennifer:

    Yeah, I guess I do need to read more carefully.

    Your post this one is linked to is excellent.

    We’re going to have these issues of food safety as long as people don’t care what goes into their mouths.

    Exactly. This includes most of the product you see at your local grocery–sad to say.

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    Svensker says:

    @Jennifer:

    and if you really want clean meat, start buying pasture-raised beef, pork and chicken.

    Bingo.

  66. 66
    Alan says:

    Food, Inc. has been playing lately on PBS POV. It’ll be on tonight locally. Check your local listings to see when it’ll be on in your area.

  67. 67
    Svensker says:

    Website for Food, Inc.

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    Jennifer says:

    You can also watch Food, Inc. streaming on Netflix.

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    Nellcote says:

    What do y’all think of the proposal for mobile butchers? It would serve smaller farms that don’t find it economically viable to truck their few animals to the the big slaughter houses. I think it’s worthy to support some test projects.

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    comrade scott's agenda of rage says:

    @cleek:

    Remember what Bill Maher once said:

    “The biggest welfare queens wear overalls”.

    I don’t but I do get a farm subsidy check once a year for farmland in Kansas. But I digress.

    Yeah, this crap regarding federal regs on something basic like food pisses me off to no end. What people don’t tell you is that the real odious gubmint regulations comes down at the State level and I can attest to the fact that here in Misery, a state in which Repups dominate both houses of the legislature, they concoct regulations to drive out of business “small, noble farmers” and other “small, noble entrepeneurs” if said “small noble types” don’t have the lobbying, ie, payment, scheme to play at the capitol. And, said regs typically don’t promote the public good or health. At least one can argue (to rational people, not the right) that the FDA/USDA are doing things to prevent little Tyler/Tanner/Dylan/Conner/Skyler/whateverstoopidfuckingsoapoperanamemyneighborsgivetheiroffspring from getting sick from tainted food.

    Again, the right wants us back living circa 1890 and there’s no stopping them from enacting that agenda.

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    Fern says:

    @Nellcote: Actually, that makes some sense…

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    That myth allows a farm spokesman Monsanto puppet to say this without being laughed out of the room:

    Fxd.

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    ChockFullO'Nuts says:

    I do not blame the farmers for taking advantage of technology, and a flaccid government that is too afraid of Republicans to do its job. I assume that the Republicans have dismantled food inspection and enforcement the way they have dismantled all the other regulatory protections, like OSHA, EPA, and so forth. By putting “Brownie” administrators in to replace competant ones, or recruiting faith based morons to do jobs that require technical competance, and by weakening laws and reducing staffs and emasculating enforcement protocols, they’ve basically fucked America and put it into a state of decline.

    That’s why it’s so important for Democrats to get off their WATB Where’s My Pony stupid asses and get to work to shore up our position in the upcoming elections.

    Elections do matter. I have stopped buying ground meat, when I found out that Safeway’s nicely packaged 0.9 lb display packages of the product are actually just repackaged factory chub meat; these Supermarkets no longer actually grind meat at all any more. It all comes from factories, and even the meat department people have no idea where the hell it comes from.

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    scarshapedstar says:

    I noted that young heifers tend to be healthy when they go from the farm to the feedlot. I do not equate the two as being similar in any way.

    Okay, we’re all on the same side here! It’s just that your first post does not make this distinction. My mistake and everyone else’s is not reading what you said later on in the thread.

    Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

    XOXOX =)

  75. 75
    burnspbesq says:

    If Republicans really believed in free markets, they wouldn’t have a problem with food producers submitting to additional inspections, not required by law, in order to differentiate their products in the market place based on quality and safety. However, Republicans don’t believe in free markets – they believe in markets that are rigged for their contributors to win.

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    Liberty60(Veteran, Great war of Yankee Aggression) says:

    @Jennifer:

    If we were to succinctly sum up current government policy towards agriculture and the food supply in one sentence, it would be: Eat shit and die.

    For the win.

    Its funny, the one of the earliest forms of government control of industry occured in agriculture; price controls, cartels, subsidies all were implemented in the 19th Century.

    The agricultural market has not been free or anything close to it for well over a century, once reasonable people understood that the wild cycles of boom and bust made no sense when you are trying to figure out what crops to plant a year in advance.

    Its another example of the shrinking of the conservative mind into “Free Market Fuck Yeah!”

  77. 77
    Liberty60(Veteran, Great war of Yankee Aggression) says:

    Also, too, FWIW-

    As a man stumbling onto middle age, I changed my diet 2 years ago to eliminate fast food and eat mostly raw unprocessed grains and vegetables. Doing so simple a thing cuts out 90% of the crappy processed stuff from your diet.

    I know, I despise smug foodies also; and I still enjoy a steak on rare occasion, and the rare indulgence of a Taco Bell meal; but just cutting back on processed junk food and meat are two things that would be a huge boon to the economy and environment.

    Now excuse me, I am going to unload the tote bag from the Prius.

  78. 78
    Jennifer says:

    @scarshapedstar: Mea culpa on my part as well; I’ve done so much reading and study on the topic of the whole industrial food chain and its ills that when I toss out a hosannah for pasture-raised meat, for example, I consider it shorthand for the whole issue. Which of course isn’t all that obvious to anyone reading who doesn’t already know me.

  79. 79
    lojasmo says:

    Classism etc. aside (with the admission that it’s not feasible for a lot of folks) refusing to buy factory meat is the solution to all these problems.

    Of course, the fact that 90% of the average American’s food intake is absolute shit overwhelms concerns about fecal meat contamination.

    Carry on. #paleo #primal

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    deangv says:

    @scarshapedstar:
    Hmm…. E coli produce toxins in self-defense? E coli are gram negative bacteria, which means their cell walls all incorporate lipopolysaccharides(LPS)/endotoxins. A necessary structural component of all E coli bacteria therefore is toxic– LPS production is something that e coli do regardless of antibiotic treatment or not. This is a general problem with all endotoxin producing bacteria– kill too many of them too quickly and you can kill the host, too. But they really don’t do anything they would not otherwise do in response to antibiotics.

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