Yes, US food is safe, mostly. There will be contamination for which a downstream fabricator is blamed. Occasionally, there is contamination from too much pesticide which is routinely blamed on careless chemical application by "red neck" farmers. Neither of these incidents are caused by small independent producers, but the blame is placed upon them due to common misconceptions by non-rural people.
Misconception # 1: The USDA will protect consumers and punish those responsible for health infractions. In the case of e-coli contamination, the fabricator is where the trace back trail ends. Why? The meat had to be tainted before it reached the downstream fabricator. Why blame the processor or the producer, neither had anything to do with the contamination. The producer delivered a live, healthy animal for slaughter.
All bacteria was safely contained in the animals gut when received by the packer. The fabricator received large plastic wrapped cuts of meat for further processing to meet the needs of their individual customers in good faith. After all, the meat had the USDA inspection stamp right on the product.
These fabricators have no animal wastes, hides, or other possible sources of contamination at their plants. All of those materials were left with the previous processor, the packer. Does anyone see that the only possibility of contamination lies with the packer, not the fabricator or the producer?
Misconception # 2: Farmers are dolts or careless buffoons who will do anything as long as it makes a dollar. Careless! In the case of chemical application, no farmer in his right mind would do this. He pays for his chemicals and so is keenly aware of their costs and wants to use as little as possible. He also wants to provide his customers with the most wholesome product he can to keep him coming back. Farmers are further required to take applicator training to be able to buy let alone use the chemicals While chemical contamination does sometimes occur, the problem is almost always from corporate or foreign produced foods.
Far from being dolts, most farmers are 3rd or 4th generation producers (these are the only individuals with enough capital to farm. Their wealth is usually inherited from the hard work of their parents and grandparents) and college educated in the latest, safest agricultural practices. They love the land they use for production and take proper care to ensure there is no erosion, pollution, or use practice that would jeopardize their future. Its not a job, to them its a way of life they want to pass on to their grandchildren.
They love the people they are trying to feed. Why else would they brave the winter cold and foul weather, put up with heat waves, or droughts that sometimes last 3 or 4 years? They have to compete in the global economy with other producers around the world and large scale agribusiness in the US. All of this in an increasingly shrinking and access controlled market.
No, these men and women are not careless dolts, but the backbone of "fly over" country and our nation. If you're eating today, thank a farmer. They do it out of love and devotion to their profession, way of life, and you.
Misconception # 3: Competition provides highest quality and lowest cost food to the consumer. On the surface this appears to be true, but let's examine competition in the meat trade. In 2007, 85 % of the meat trade in the US was controlled by 5 companies. Not long ago the 3rd largest, Swift Packing, was purchased by a Brazilian company JBS to form JBS-Swift. (JBS is the largest meat packer in South America. They recently purchased Tasman beef to become the largest packer in Australia.
They also bought out an Italian company to increase their access to the EU market.) That purchase made no change in the US market, but JBS-Swift has since purchased # 5 Smithfied foods with the blessing of the US Justice Department and is currently attempting to buy # 4 National farms to become the largest meat company in the US. This has been challenged by the USJD and 17 state attorney's general as well as private groups who have filed separate suits to stop the acquisition. Don't get too excited, the USJD is backing down and entering into a settlement with JBS-Swift that would allow the deal to go through.
Thus control by 5 companies becomes control by 3. Does everyone understand how competition is enhanced? I certainly do not. Oh did I mention that JBS-Swift also purchased 5 rivers feeding company. This company was the largest cattle feeding operation in the United States with a capacity of over 300,000 head. This allows JBS-Swift to never enter the cash market where independent farmers must sell unless the price of product is greatly to their advantage. Doesn't this save the consumer money? No, the price you pay almost never comes down. Watch the cash price paid for live cattle and see for yourself its relation to the price you pay in the grocery stores. You will not get a price break regardless of how little the producer receives.
Misconception # 4: Mandatory animal ID will make the food supply and our communities safer. It will not. Proper inspection will be miles ahead in providing a safer product than ID will. In the middle 1990's the old "poke and sniff" inspection system, around since the 1920's was replaced by the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), a paperwork inspection system relying on statements from employees as to the safety and quality of the meat. Many days the inspector never leaves his office, visits the kill floor , or visits the coolers. Actual inspection of meat and microbial sampling will help ensure a far safer food than will inspecting the paperwork involved in the meat's processing. (The HACCP system was so expensive, most of your small local packers could not afford to continue to be federally inspected and either closed or went to state inspection which only allows them to sell meat within their state lines, more loss of competition.)
The general public is being encouraged to support mandatory animal ID as a way to provide for 48 hour trace back to the source in case of an animal disease outbreak of foot and mouth, Bovine Tuberculosis, BSE (mad cow), Chronic Wasting disease and a few others. Other than foot and mouth which we haven't had in this nation since the late 1920's all the other diseases listed concern only adult breeding animals, not the ones primarily used for food. (Foot and mouth is a very contagious disease which manifests itself within 18 hours and affects primarily cattle and sheep not humans. Under current rules all movement of livestock throughout the US would be stopped immediately upon detection of even one case, much like the no fly zone after 9-11 grounded all planes, until the source of the contamination can be traced and quarantined.
A costly venture to be sure, but very inexpensive when compared to the costs involved in mandatory tagging of animals and the tracing of each animal's movement and location in the US daily. Bovine TB takes from 3-5 years to show up, BSE (mad cow) 6-8 years and the same is true for the other adult animal diseases mentioned. 48 hours? What's the rush and can you call it an "outbreak" if it takes over 3 years to show up?
In the far west and some other states 17 in all, the current brand laws provide for trace back within 3 hours, not 48. In the rest of the nation, the remains of the old brucellosis (a blood disease that causes spontaneous abortions in cows) monitoring program are still in place, though the USDA and most states are trying to dismantle the system as a cost saving measure. That program provides for testing and tracing the individual animals every time they are sold commercially or cross state lines. Using these two existing systems, the adult herd can easily be traced now at no cost to the producer and minuscule cost to the taxpayer.
The mandatory animal ID system (NAIS) will not make your neighborhoods or your food supply safer, but it will add unnecessary costs to the producer.
What it also will do is create more income for the government through fines for non or improper compliance, increased profits for the tag and monitoring software manufacturers and the international exporters who will use the information provided free to them to enhance their profits around the world.
This doesn't even count the costs to you personally if your children or grandchildren wish to go on a trail ride with their own horse or show their pet lamb, steer, hog, or llama at a state fair or other event. To do so, you will be required to register your premises (perhaps giving up your private property rights) and report each time the animal leaves or returns to your home or boarding location. You will also be required to report the location of the animal while away from your home. Failure to do so would be a violation of state or Federal law punishable by a stiff fine. Are you raising diseased animals? Hum? May I see your papers please?
Misconception # 5: Animal flatulence and burps contribute to the global warming problem and must be controlled immediately. Have we not had animals since the beginning of time that have been performing these natural functions or is it just recently that US animals have picked up these bad habits? Get real people. The animals are God's gift to all mankind and convert unusable (to man) grass into protein for our nourishment. Granted their natural bodily functions may contain greenhouse gases, but not at any higher levels than they have been producing since the planets beginning. To suggest that food or wild, for that matter, animals are a primary or strong secondary source of greenhouse gases is laughable.
More to come next time in part 3 [ to view other articles click here ]