Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Number of Issues

A Huffington Post article echoed on Alternet. Martha Rosenberg introduces her list of BigAg's Nine Issues:
Food scandals are so costly to Big Food, it has repeatedly tried to kill the messenger rather than clean up its act. In the 1990s it pushed through "food disparagement" laws under which Oprah Winfrey herself was sued by cattlemen in 1997 (Winfrey said she would never eat a hamburger again upon learning that cows were being fed to cows). Winfrey was acquitted and cow cannibalism was made illegal but the US still lost $3 billion in beef exports when a first mad cow was discovered in 2003. April's new mad cow will not help foreign trade.
Last year, Big Food introduced Animal Facility Interference laws in several states which make it a crime to "produce, distribute or possess photos and video taken without permission at an agricultural facility." The bills also criminalize lying on an application to work at an agriculture facility "with an intent to commit an act not authorized by the Owner"--in an effort to stop the flow of grisly undercover videos. The first facility interference offense would be an aggravated misdemeanor but subsequent offenses could be felonies.

Of course, the Ag-Gag bills, as they were quickly dubbed, are anti-free-speech and would chill both whistle-blowers and news media (who couldn't legally even receive non-approved farm images). The bills were scorified by CNN, the New York Times, Time magazine and First Amendment and food safety activists and, luckily, were defeated in 2011. But they are creeping back.
It would be difficult to argue with her sentiments, but for the moment, at least, Canada isn't seeing quite the same activity on the part of BigAg. Well, not until the Stephen Harper government attacked environmentalists....  With a government inspired by a fundamentalist right-wing theology that doesn't acknowledge the validity of science and believes that mankind cannot harm the environment (no, really.), BigAg, just like BigOil, doesn't actually have to get it's hands dirty. They can simply watch our government go further faster than even they would have hoped. [Martha Rosenberg's Nine Issues and my Canadian-perspective gloss follow the jump]

So Martha Rosenberg details nine issues that BigAg would prefer we the public either didn't know about or didn't discuss. They are:

1. rBGH in Milk -- We're Drinking What?

Recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), injected into dairy cows to increase milk production, was created by crossing cow DNA and E. coli bacteria. Yes, that E. coli. From the start, farmers and veterinarians worried about the udder infections it causes, the resulting need for more antibiotic usage and more.
This is one we currently don't have to worry about in Canada. Milk marketing boards across the country ensure that producers get a reasonable rate of return, which meant that farmers, scientists, and the public managed to successfully resist the introduction of rBGH into Canada.

2. Eggs With a Side of Salmonella
Two years ago, a salmonella outbreak caused the recall of half a billion eggs and 1,600 illnesses. Thanks to factory farming, with thousands of hens stacked over their own manure, egg operations are festooned with germs.
This one we do have to concern ourselves with. Interestingly, I saw an article back in the late eighties (back when we had our own flock of fifty or so chickens) that suggested that free-range or traditionally-raised  chickens didn't have this concern, as the flock passed on salmonella resistance to their young. This, it seems, is one of those factory-farm related conditions.

3. The Drug Store in Your Meat
You may not have heard of Fort Dodge, Elanco, or Intervet, animal divisions of Big Pharma, but you may well be "taking" their drugs. Government safety inspectors miss residues of penicillin and other antibiotics, parasite and anti-inflammatory drugs and heavy metals in beef, says a 2010 Office of Inspector General report, allowing contaminated beef into food supply.
I haven't seen any similar studies recently about this problem in Canada, but I see no reason to think that we've dodged this bullet....

4. "Free Antibiotics" in Food and Water
One of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's last legislative fights was about the overuse of livestock antibiotics. "It seems scarcely believable that these precious medications could be fed by the ton to chickens and pigs," he wrote in the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act. Over 70 percent of antibiotics go to livestock, not to people, says the bill and 48 percent of national streams are tainted with antibiotics.
 Yeah, this one's ours too.  MRSA and other resistant infections are on the rise in Canada--including multiple drug resistant tuberculosis.Rosenberg's suggestion that plants watered with antibiotic-laced water are re-concentrating the antibiotics in themselves as they do other minerals is news to me. If so, it means we're developing a concentration cycle that could make the BSE cycle look tame.

5. Meat Inspection by the "Have a Cup of Coffee and Pray" Method
Once upon a time, federal meat inspectors visually examined carcasses for wholesomeness. But under the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), implemented in 2000, inspectors now simply ratify that companies are following their own self-created systems--as in "Trust us."

This is also a problem in Canada. During the Alberta BSE "crisis", the Alberta government refused to certify an abattoir that was planning to check every head of beef that came through for BSE because they was planning to check every head of beef that came through for BSE. They were rightly concerned that they would find it...

6. A Delicacy from Hell
Foie gras is a "delicacy" that requires the indelicate force-feeding of geese and ducks to bloat their livers. Video shows birds with bloody throats, barely able to walk and struggling to breathe.
This is another example of a problem that comes from industrial farming. Ethical foie gras exists, but 1) it costs more and 2) there's a lot less of it around because it has to compete with the much cheaper uynethical variety. Foie gras does not "requires"  indelicate force-feeding, the job is just done cheaper that way.

7. Extreme Growth Promoters
Many of the growth promoters used in US meat production are banned in other countries. Europe boycotts US beef because of hormones like oestradiol-17 and trenbolone acetate which it says are linked to prostate and breast cancer. The EU also disallows farmers to use antibiotics and arsenic as growth promoters, which the US does [allow].
I admit, I don't know if these are actually allowed in Canada. Sure hope not--we already allow feedlots.

8. Mad Cow Disease--It's Baaaaaack
Does anyone remember the government's misinformation and ineptitude with the first three mad cows, now that the disease is baaaaacck? With the first cow, a government report said all "potentially-infectious product" had been "disposed of " in a landfill but the San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times said it went to California restaurants where it was eaten. That's very different.
This is still a problem in Canada. We still don't test regularly for it, and we have no idea as to the disease's persistence. Alberta Premier Ralph Klein expressed the official line when he suggested that rancher's with "downer" cattle "Shoot, shovel, and shut up." 

9. Brave New Clones
The FDA says clones and their offspring are no different from other food animals and won't be labeled. (See: rBGH.) But in its own 2008 report it cites cloned calves with elevated glucose, elevated growth indicators, early mammary development, umbilical abscesses and high white blood cell counts. Even the meat and milk is different in one study, the FDA admits.
Of course this is a  problem here in Canada. Health Canada says:
Until more is known about the products of this technology, Health Canada will consider foods produced from livestock developed using SCNT and the progeny of such livestock to be captured under the definition of "novel food" in the Food and Drug Regulations in that they have been obtained by a reproductive technology which has not previously been applied to generate animals that would be used to manufacture foods (meat, eggs, milk, etc.) and which may result in a major change in these foods. They are therefore subject to the regulations in Division 28, Part B, of the Food and Drug Regulations (Novel Foods). Developers producing cloned animals through SCNT must, therefore, not sell the products or by-products of any cloned animals or their progeny in the human food supply in Canada unless they have been subjected to the pre-market safety assessment required of novel foods.
As there is currently insufficient data to guide the pre-market safety assessment of these products, developers who wish to use SCNT technology for producing food livestock are requested to withhold novel food notifications until requirements are determined and guidance is available. Nevertheless, in the event that they wish to discuss potential issues and information requirements related to a specific product of this technology, Health Canada encourages developers to contact the Department, preferably before conducting trials aimed at assessing the safety and nutritional quality of food products derived from these animals.
But please note: "contact the Department, preferably before conducting trials" [emphasis added]. So that's not to say that trails aren't ongoing, just that the results aren't supposed to end up in the food supply. Worked real well with StarLink corn, didn't it?

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