Thursday, August 19, 2010

You Already Know the Details

Because you have heard the story so many times before.

Egg Recall Expanded After Salmonella Outbreak

”Federal regulators have grappled with the problem of salmonella in eggs since it first emerged in the 1980s. But proposals to improve regulations were largely unsuccessful until a year ago, when the Food and Drug Administration announced a new set of rules, which became effective on July 9.”

(Emphasis added)

”Mr. DeCoster is well known to federal regulators.”

”In 1997, one of his companies agreed to pay a $2 million fine...”

”In 2003, Mr. DeCoster pleaded guilty to charges of knowingly hiring immigrants...”

”Mr. DeCoster was also charged by Iowa authorities in the 1990s with violations of environmental rules governing hog manure runoff.”

Just another story to remember when “conservatives” tell you that we don’t need regulations and “The Market” (that magical, mystical creature) will regulate itself.

I must say that, once again, Michael Pollan’s masterpiece -- The Omnivore’s Dilemma -- comes to mind. (I really can’t believe I’ve never written a book review of it. How did I miss that?) Once again we see a flaw in the big, industrial food chain we’ve built to sustain ourselves. Where animals and plants once fed us in a centuries-old balance with each other, we have built a system of sickness. We fertilize our fields with petroleum products now instead of manure. The manure has become a toxic waste disposal problem on an industrial scale.

The irony of hiring illegal aliens to work our farms -- the very farms we Americans still romanticize -- and then blaming them for taking our jobs is rich indeed. I suspect there are millions of Americans that would enjoy making a living from their 40 acre farm. But American agriculture policy isn’t geared toward generating millions of jobs (any news about unemployment today?). It’s geared towards keeping prices down.

You Want Fries With That?

”The early 70’s marked the last time food prices in America had climbed high enough to generate political heat.”

“Recognizing the political peril of cranky consumers and restive farmers, President Nixon dispatched Butz to rejigger the American food system. The Sage of Purdue promptly loosened regulations, beat down trade rules and expanded subsidies. By 1976, when a racist joke he told on a plane cost him his job, Butz had largely succeeded in driving down the cost of food and vastly increasing the output of America’s farmers. Say what you will about the problems of a heavily subsidized industrial agriculture, the cost of food is no longer a political issue in the United States.”

I think that quote said something about regulations being loosened. The whole episode is a fascinating look at how government works -- and how we got to where we are. You can always look up these things on Wikipedia but Michael Pollan’s book will help you see the “Big Picture”.

Earl Butz

”...Butz revolutionized federal agricultural policy and reengineered many New Deal era farm support programs. His mantra to farmers was "get big or get out," and he urged farmers to plant commodity crops like corn "from fencerow to fencerow." These policy shifts coincided with the rise of major agribusiness corporations, and the declining financial stability of the small family farm.”

Don Brown
August 19, 2010


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