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ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

26 July 2002

THE WAY AMERICA EATS: JUST COOK THE CRUD OUT OF IT!

We're always being told that the apparent lack of US consumer concern over GE foods stems from confidence in the country's well-regulated food supply. The following articles on America's current contaminated meat recall -- all taken from The AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER #177 -- paint a rather different picture: one of consumer ignorance about the food supply and passivity in the face of corporate malfeasance - a deadly combination.

All the players mentioned below will be familiar.

The USDA: stands accused of presiding over a food safety system "teetering on the brink of collapse"

ConAgra: a US multinational identified, in a University of Missouri study, as an "agribusiness goliath" positioning itself to dominate world food production at the expense of both farmers and consumers. ConAgra as well as being a food company has three agricultural products divisions including United Agri Products (UAP) whose services include, "Advanced biotechnology products and services". ConAgra's slogan: "We know the way America eats".

The FDA: born a century ago out of the scandal of America's contaminated meat

EXCERPTS from the items below:

"It's time for the Congress to take a good, hard look into USDA food safety policies and how they are implemented. The ConAgra recall is not an aberration.  It is another example of a food safety system that is teetering on the brink of collapse."

If 19 million pounds of meat distributed to half of this country had been contaminated with a deadly strain of E. coli bacteria by terrorists, we'd go nuts. But when it's done by a Fortune 100 corporation, we continue to buy it and feed it to our kids.

As children are weaned from dialysis, joining others recovering from eating ground beef contaminated with feces, the rest of us are ready to return to busines as usual from the meat industry.

Consumers, like cattle being led to the slaughter, barely twitch when the corporate machine that controls our food supply ships another load of tainted meat. We've come to expect it. We actually blame ourselves for not sterilizing our meat thermometers every time we check to see if the fecal contaminants are done. Meanwhile, we pay no attention when the industry eliminates another safeguard.

...consumers are 'paying the highest prices in history for the dirtiest product since 1906 when Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle. '

It's no wonder that federal officials count 61 deaths and 73,000 cases of E. coli 0157:H7 poisoning in the U.S. every year. By comparison, it took only a handful of cases of the human form of mad cow disease to shut down the beef industry for three years in Great Britain, where consumers fought back.

***

JUST COOK THE CRUD OUT OF IT !!!

Diane Carman, The Denver Post

DIANE CARMEN, DENVER POST COLUMNIST: If 19 million pounds of meat distributed to half of this country had been contaminated with a deadly strain of E. coli bacteria by terrorists, we'd go nuts. But when it's done by a Fortune 100 corporation, we continue to buy it and feed it to our kids.

As children are weaned from dialysis, joining others recovering from eating ground beef contaminated with feces, the rest of us are ready to return to business as usual from the meat industry.

Be sure to cook those burgers well, we remind each other. Well-done burgers won't give you renal failure despite the traces of manure.

Consumers, like cattle being led to the slaughter, barely twitch when the corporate machine that controls our food supply ships another load of tainted meat. We've come to expect it. We actually blame ourselves for not sterilizing our meat thermometers every time we check to see if the fecal contaminants are done.

Meanwhile, we pay no attention when the industry eliminates another safeguard. Faster meat disassembly lines, fewer poorly paid workers, fewer inspectors, more mechanized processing --- they're all designed with profits, not consumers, in mind.

It's no wonder that federal officials count 61 deaths and 73,000 cases of E. coli 0157:H7 poisoning in the U.S. every year. By comparison, it took only a handful of cases of the human form of mad cow disease to shut down the beef industry for three years in Great Britain, where consumers fought back.

Kathy Kelley, a cattle rancher near Meeker, is exasperated with "lazy" American consumers who don't have a clue about the source of their food, much less the shame-less exploitation of humans, animals and the environment involved in its production.

Kelley doesn't think of the 19 million pounds of recalled beef as mere hamburger but as tons of costly feed, acre-feet of scarce water, years of work by ranchers and thousands of head of cattle slaughtered --- and wasted --- all because of an inherently filthy system.

"There is no reason for people in this country to have E. coli poisoning," she said. "It's entirely a byproduct of industrial meat processing."

"They hire economic refugees, exploit unskilled workers, steal the meat from the suppliers and endanger the lives of the consumers," said another angry cattleman, Mike Callicrate of St. Francis, Kansas. Ranchers are getting "the lowest share of the consumer's meat dollar in history," while consumers are "paying the highest prices in history for the dirtiest product since 1906 when Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle. " Callicrate said.

The free market system has collapsed. While drought-stressed ranchers sell off herds for a fraction of their value, meat prices remain unmoved. Deliberately inadequate labeling thwarts consumers from making informed choices. Information about what country the animal is from or the packing plant that processed it is withheld, and measures to require those details repeatedly have been defeated in the legislature, at the urging of the meat industry.

They don't want us to know.

Then, to protect the corporation from litigation, we're reminded once again to be sure to cook the living, well, manure out of it. They freely admit it's the only way we can be sure the product they're selling won't kill us.

Diane Carman's commentaries appear Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday in the Denver Post.

***

GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY PROJECT AND PUBLIC CITIZEN DEMAND INVESTIGATION OF USDA'S INSPECTION SYSTEM OF CONAGRA MEAT
[shortened]

NOEL PETRIE, PUBL:IC CITIZEN: Public Citizen and the Government Accountability Project called yesterday for a congressional investigation into the events that led to the recall of 19 million pounds of meat processed by ConAgra at its Greeley, Colorado, plant and into the manner in which the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has implemented a new meat inspection program.

The groups cited extensive e-mail evidence showing that top USDA officials were told in February that E. coli-contaminated meat was being produced at the ConAgra plant, but those officials chose to ignore the warnings. The USDA and ConAgra negotiated a voluntary recall on June 30 and another, much larger recall last week. The groups called for the investigation in letters to the chairs of the House and Senate Agriculture committees and the House Government Reform and Senate Government Affairs committees. The letter went to Sens. Tom Harkin (Dem.-Iowa) and Joseph Lieberman (Dem.-Connecticut), and Reps. Larry Combest (Rep.-Texas) and Dan Burton (Rep.-Indiana).

"It's time for the Congress to take a good, hard look into USDA food safety policies and how they are implemented," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "The ConAgra recall is not an aberration.  It is another example of a food safety system that is teetering on the brink of collapse."

***

CONAGRA REPEATEDLY NO STRANGER TO MEAT INSPECTION, HEALTH AND PUBLIC SAFETY VIOLATIONS
[shortened]

GREG WINTER, NEW YORK TIMES: Running afoul of federal inspectors as they pick their way through meat plants is far from unheard of at ConAgra Foods Inc., one of the world's largest food companies.

In the last year alone, the Department of Agriculture has briefly halted work in two ConAgra plants because of health violations, and has threatened to do so at least a half-dozen other times unless the company pays more attention to its own food safety plans.Another ConAgra plant had the highest rate of salmonella among all the turkey processors tested by the department last year, with nearly half its birds showing some contamination, according to government records.

And the Colorado plant where a ConAgra subsidiary, the ConAgra Beef Company, processed the 19 million pounds of beef recalled [last Friday] had been cited almost ten times in the last three years, for violating safety codes intended to protect workers in dangerous settings, records of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration show.

Though the new recall is the second-largest ever for meat, ConAgra is hardly at the extreme of the industry. In fact, it is regarded as something of a leader in food safety by public health advocates, who argue that the real danger lies in the shortcomings of federal regulation.

***

COMMENTARY: NEITHER A HEART NOR A STOMACH

"The most extraordinary aspect of the national furor over The Jungle, with its international repercussions, was that public attention was concentrated almost exclusively upon material regarded by Sinclair as incidental, mere background and local color for his major theme which was the oppression of the Packinghouse workers."

"Afterword," by Robert Downs, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, Signet Classic, N.Y.,N.Y.: 1906.

While seeking to show the miserable and unsafe working conditions  of packinghouse workers in the early part of the 20th century Upon Sinclair also revealed in his classic The Jungle how unsafe and contaminated the meat was that was being processed in those packinghouses. The public reaction was instantaneous and the U.S. Congress moving at warp speed for that body enacted within the year the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

When Sinclair was later questioned about the public reaction to his book he wrote in keen disappointment, "I aimed at the public's heart and by accident I hit it in the stomach."

Unfortunately, nearly 100 years later the consuming public seems to have neither the heart nor the stomach to aim at !!!

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