A handful of McDonald’s employees in northeastern Ohio received handbills in their most recent paychecks suggesting they vote for three Republican candidates. “If the right people are elected we will be able to continue with raises and benefits at or above our present levels,” the insert said. “If others are elected we will not.” This is simply an attempt by one franchise owner, whom seems to be a little over zealous about his politics, to sway some of his employees to vote a certain way and does not reflect in any way shape or form the views of McDonalds Inc. Itself. After the news story broke, the franchise owner quickly apologized for his actions. This does offer us an opportunity to look beyond the food labels into the politics of the food we do eat.
One of the major quips used to describe Americans by the French is that we are “fat disgusting pigs that don’t even know what we put in our own mouths”. We never really do know exactly what we are eating, even when we grow the food ourselves. Most of us don’t have our soil sampled for chemicals or even research the seeds we are planting. Often we find out about the contaminants after we are sick from ingesting it. We then lay the blame upon the store where we purchased it knowing all along the store only bought it from a supplier and only sold it to us. When we buy preprocessed food we are entrusting others, some whom live thousands of miles away in foreign countries to properly grow and handle the food we eat. All food prepared in this form have chemicals to enhance the flavor, preserve the product and enrich its vitamin content. Steroids, antibiotics, pesticides and genetic engineering are commonly used to promote greater harvests. If you ever watched the show “How it’s made” you’ll notice most of the food people eat comes from a place that looks like it should be building cars or toasters not pancakes.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) America’s official watchdogs of what we put into our mouths have both been plagued since their inception with underfunding and relentless industry pressure to try perform their mandates of protecting the American public’s health and well being. We have all seen or experienced recalls ranging from salmonella or E. coli to antifreeze in toothpaste and have been taken aback at our own government’s inability to regulate what should be considered the most basic of human safeguards, what we eat. Companies producing food products without any government over sight or official licenses to do so have been linked to food poisonings across the country. Large scale industrial farms have injected growth hormones, antibiotics, and sprayed livestock with pesticides all of which have entered into our food supply. The oversight responsibility of Congress in the funding and managing the FDA and the USDA has not only fallen silent but has been in fact been corrupted by industry insiders. Politicians now complain of government getting in the way of business or slowing progress all the while every year has become a new record high in recalls of prescription drugs and outbreaks of food poisonings.
The Produce Safety Project at Georgetown University has estimated the cost of food borne illness to be roughly $152 billion annually. More than 1,000 people have been sickened by eggs and more than 500 million eggs have been recalled this year alone. Last year Beef Packers Inc. (a subsidiary of Cargill) recalled 826,000 pounds of beef due to positive testing, after 28 people fell ill, for Salmonella Newport a strain highly resistant to antibiotics. The USDA however purchased 450,000 pounds of beef for its National School Lunch Program during the dates covered by the recall from Beef Packers Inc., but since the recall only affected beef sold to retailers and not meat sent to schools it continued to supply the possibly affected beef to school children across the country. Beef Packers Inc. had a history of positive Salmonella tests but the USDA did not disclose that information. An official told USA
Today that doing so would discourage companies from contracting to supply product for the National School Lunch Program and hamper our ability to provide the safe and nutritious foods to American school children.
To give you an idea of how entrenched government is with large scale industrial farms. In 1996 Congress enacted legislation allowing the USDA to collect funds from Dairy, Cattle, Pig and Egg farms nationally to use for research and promotion of said products, by the way only 8 percent has gone to actual research. The program called “Check-off” allowed the USDA to tax all the farms producing such commodities, collecting what is called “Check-off dollars” and gave it to non-profit groups like the Cattleman’s Beef Promotion and Research Board or the National Pork Board. Advertising campaigns like “Got Milk?” and “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner” where funded with these check-off dollars. For many years, the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board (check-off organization) shared an address with the National Cattleman’s Association (trade association lobbying group), and the National Pork Board (check-off) shared offices, staff, and telephone services with the National Pork Producers Council (lobbying). Since the oversight of these non-profits fell in the jurisdiction of the USDA, it simply means that the agency charged with regulating the farming industry is now taxing the farmers and using the money with the help of industry insiders. Basically forcing small family farms to help pay for large industrial farms lobbying efforts that will ultimately put the small farms out of business.
To make matters worse, the US imported over 2 trillion dollars worth of goods, from over 150 countries in 2008 and a growing percentage of these imports have become food products. The amount of food products imported into the US has nearly quintupled since 1990 and we now import more food into this country then we export. Meaning simply we as a country can no longer feed ourselves. Our government can’t even properly regulate our own farmers and has little or no jurisdiction over foreign growers. The FDA itself admits on its own web page it cannot possibly inspect all the food coming into the US. It would appear that most of the food imported does not receive any inspection by an official US regulatory agency nor is the country of origin required to be on the packaging of fresh foods when offered up for retail. So in essence by default, the US Senate has become the chief food safety authority, with its ability to regulate foreign trade agreements in the US. Through intensive lobbying and a lack of real government oversight the ability to safely feed all Americans has been outsourced to foreign countries.
Thirty years ago, the US was a major exporter of finished manufactured goods. With relentless lobbying, demonizing of Unions and the misguided belief of free trade our government was sent down a path that led to the destruction of America’s manufacturing base. Politics, with its belief in what is envisioned and not what is real is now leading us down the same path with our food supply. Safety measures developed over the last century to protect us from life threatening diseases are being circumvented in order to boost bottom lines. The mechanisms employed by the industrial farmers to lobby congress for laxer standards, tax breaks and even government subsidies is now being used by large retailers and chain restaurants to completely bypass any oversight. We now have to entrust a country considered to be the world’s worst dictatorship, The Peoples Republic of China for our food safety. Common America, we can do a lot better.