Can US citizens trust the USDA on beef? Can any of us?

Let’s just remind ourselves of some recent history:

In 2001, Australia banned the importation of beef and beef products from Japan after a single confirmed case of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy). The USA and many other countries also banned beef imports from Japan.

In 2003, BSE cases caused Australia to ban importing beef from Canada, and then beef from the USA as well. Japan, which had been America’s biggest export beef market, also banned imports from the USA, along with a host of other countries.

In December 2005, after huge pressure from the US Dept of Agriculture, Japan lifted that ban on the importation of US beef. In January 2006, that ban was reimposed due to renewed saftey concerns about American meat processing. South Korea partially lifted their ban on US beef imports in early 2006, but an import violation last week has now thrown that market into doubt.

Despite BSE scares leading to a drop in beef consumption worldwide, the import bans on US beef have been good news for beef producers in Australia, New Zealand and Brazil especially who have stepped into the supply gap for beef imports worldwide, but obviously it has made life difficult for the American beef farmer.

So what is the USDA (Dept of Agriculture) doing to ensure the Confidence of American consumers in domestic beef rather than foreign beef? They’re taking all the basic precautions with SRMs (specified risk materials), certainly. But what happens when a small meatpacking company wants to certify its beef as having had a higher level of safety testing/inspections than those mandated by the USDA, in order to give its product an edge in a competitive market and give consumers more choice? Does the USDA encourage such innovation and customer service?

WASHINGTON: The Bush administration said Tuesday it will fight to keep meatpackers from testing all their animals for mad cow disease.

The Agriculture Department tests fewer than 1 percent of slaughtered cows for the disease, which can be fatal to humans who eat tainted beef. A beef producer in the western state of Kansas, Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, wants to test all of its cows.

Larger meat companies feared that move because, if Creekstone should test its meat and advertised it as safe, they might have to perform the expensive tests on their larger herds as well.

The Agriculture Department regulates the test and argued that widespread testing could lead to a false positive that would harm the meat industry. . . .

If anyone needed more signs that the US Government is in thrall to corporations above citizens, add this to your list. A company’s free choice to add value to its product, in a way that will benefit consumers rather than harm them, is being constrained. And what about the highly touted, indeed almost sacred, principles of free market competition? How is this not an act of restraint of trade, exactly the sort of act which is against US Anti-Trust legislation, which is meant to protect smaller businesses from unfair competitive practices from larger businesses?

Ralph Nader had a point when he said that both the Republicans and the Democrats were branches of the Corporate Party. The trend for the same in Australia with the converging platforms of the Liberals/Nationals coalition and the Labor party is certainly arguable.

So who/what in either country, or anywhere around the world, is going to be the new Citizen party to counteract the Corporate parties? How will they get off the ground?

Categories: culture wars, Politics

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3 replies

  1. When I heard the news about the USDA pressuring Creekstone Farms not to test for ‘mad cow’ disease, I was, for the first time in a while, not surprised by a governmental action.
    Lemme ‘splain.
    I’ve been reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan lately, and in the first chapters of his book, he details the ‘care’ and feeding of beef cattle as part of an examination of an American meal (this one from McDonald’s) from field to table.
    The US Government *not* wanting to test every animal for mad cow makes economic sense from the perspective of the industrial model of agriculture and the capitalist model of economics. Testing more cattle == big expenses, from what I understand for the beef ranchers/processors. Higher expenses == lower profitability and a lower likelihood that US Beef will maintain the corner on the market it has, as evidenced by the various behaviors of the US Government to ‘protect its interests’.
    Wherein it becomes obvious that its interests are capitalistic and not particularly democratic or, come to that, humanitarian.
    Due to the current regulated encouraged feeding practices, what the USDA might discover (by checking all cattle for ‘mad cow’) is that more American cattle are, in fact, infected, or showing signs of infection, since the protein in their feed is allowed to be tallow from a nearby beef rendering plant. IIRC, ‘mad cow’ disease has been linked to, well, the bovine equivalent of cannibalism.
    If the USDA discovers this, then it just might be forced to change the allowable feeding practices in order to sell beef at all. So the US Government is in fact protecting corporate interests, seeing as how large corporations like ADM and Cargill would be directly affected by drastic changes in the beef market, because they are the couriers and main profiteers from the masses of cheap corn which are the basis for beef cattle diet on industrial cattle farms in the US. (These companies have had a large hand in Dept. of Agriculture farm bills since the 1970s, IIRC, whose policies have essentially kept the price of corn (and by extension, beef) unnaturally low and trapped farmers into farming more corn just to stay afloat.
    All this from a journalist who wanted to know where his food came from.

  2. Just on general principles, and speaking as a US citizen, I wouldn’t trust anything any branch of the US government says or does at this point. There just aren’t any effective checks or balances on the kleptocratic Republican regime, not even a rival party controlling the legislature, except insofar as ongoing investigations of rampant fraud and abuse are impelling individuals to resign. A few Congressmen have been under indictment and some of them are already in jail, but so far as I know not one Bush-appointed executive branch official has been tried for anything yet.
    But many many have resigned, flaking off the regime like so much dandruff. And many more people with a track record of being somewhat reasonable, such as career civil service and military people this regime inherited, have been canned or driven to quit.
    I think it was about six months ago I heard Rachel Maddow (a Rhodes Scholar with a Political Science PhD (earned at Oxford, I believe–um, that’s what “Rhodes scholar” means, right?) who is also an out lesbian and has a daily news analyis show on the Air America radio network) saying that the talent pool at the State Department has been so deeply drained that Secretary Rice actually is having trouble finding plausible candidates for top diplomatic positions, despite the obviously low bar the Administration and a compliant Senate had set. This was shortly after John Bolton (who was never confirmed even by the Republican-controlled Senate, and imposed as UN Ambassador by the subterfuge of a “recess appointment,” a trick Bush has had frequent recourse to) had resigned.
    I don’t know if the USA even has anyone serving as UN Ambassador or not at this moment. Well, “Nobody” is a clear improvement on Bolton.
    On any subject, the Bush Administration has nothing good to say; it’s best when they say or do nothing at all. And if they say something, it is wisest not to listen.
    I swear, if Bush or Cheney declared in a speech that the sky was blue, I’d run out and see if this was the week it turned green or orange or sooty black. And it doesn’t seem all that unlikely a thing to happen either.
    I hope for some kind of breakthrough, but short of getting rid of the whole Admin, top down, I can’t see any serious prospect of reform, even if all the rascals going out the revolving door wind up in court and then in jail, with all their misdeeds made part of indisputable public record. Bush will just name new stooges, and short of getting rid of him either the Dems will confirm them eventually or posts will just go vacant. Bush _can’t_ put in competent, scrupulous people; the first thing such a person would have to do is scrap all this admin’s innovations in policy and procedure, and only an explicit deal with the devil not to investigate past misdeeds (or a blanket pardon from the President, who can pardon anyone who has not been impeached and convicted, for anything) would keep the previous crew out of prison.
    And an impeachment conviction in the Senate requires a 2/3 majority, and the Democrats are far short of that. Only fear that voters who have normally staunchly supported Republican incumbants might turn and enable Democratic rivals to be elected to the Senate in ’08 could possibly motivate Republican Senators to vote for conviction–well, that, or a public service conscience, which theoretical possibility I dismiss. I am sure that if the scandals of our current regime are exposed so deeply and rapidly that enough Republican Senators soberly fear their re-election absolutely depends on Bush leaving office before November ’09, they will at least insist on brokering some deal whereby a Republican replaces the President. (If they just convicted Bush of course Cheney would be that replacement, but if the publicly credited evidence against this admin is so bad that it comes to that pass, Cheney would surely be convicted too.) I suppose they’d tell Bush to do a two-step, whereby he gets Cheney to resign, pardons him of any possible wrongdoing as Ford did with Nixon, then appoints some Republican caretaker as VP, then resign. This is what happened with Nixon. The sticking point is, Bush probably will never agree to resign, no matter how universally hated he might become. And I am sure any Republican caretaker installed would continue as much of Republican policy as they could.
    I would avoid anything whose quality depends on the say-so of the US Government, if I were you, at least until we finally get some regime change. And look real close at any successor; it will be difficult to reverse the damage done to the credibility of our government and society, and all too easy to just adapt to sloveny ways as our new norm.

  3. That’s a fine helping of rant there, Mark, beautifully composed. I have nothing to add, just wanted to note the beauty.

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