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Playing chicken on food safety? 1/3 of a Second to Examine Slaughtered Chickens

USDA defends efforts to speed up poultry slaughter lines and replace most federal inspectors with plant workers

By Tim Eberly

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A worker gathers chickens for slaughter in the predawn hours at White Oak Pastures In Bluffton. The owner of the unusual "free range" farm says he prefers to have government inspectors monitoring his slaughter line, rather than relying more on his employees.

Brant Sanderlin, bsanderlin@ajc.com A worker gathers chickens for slaughter in the predawn hours at White Oak Pastures In Bluffton. The owner of the unusual “free range” farm says he prefers to have government inspectors monitoring his slaughter line, rather than relying more on his employees.

One-third of a second.

That’s how long a federal inspector will have to examine slaughtered chickens for contaminants and disease under new rules proposed by the federal government.

The proposal would speed up production lines as much as 25 percent. It also would pull most federal inspectors off the lines and replace them with plant workers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says its proposal is a win-win-win that modernizes food inspection while saving money for taxpayers and the poultry industry.

The nation’s most recognized food safety and consumer groups, however, say the plan would leave gaping holes in oversight that will endanger the nation’s food supply, not to mention create a conflict of interest for poultry plants. They warn that Americans, who eat about 80 pounds of poultry a year, will be at greater risk of getting a side serving of fecal contamination or cancerous tumors with their chicken.

“I went out and bought a food processor so we could make more vegetarian meals,” said Felicia Nestor, a food safety advocate and a consultant with the Government Accountability Project. “If the changes go into effect, my husband and I will no longer buy chicken.”

The USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service, which oversees poultry plants, believes the changes would “ensure and even enhance the safety of the poultry supply by focusing our inspectors’ efforts on activities more directly tied to improving food safety,” FSIS spokesman Dirk Fillpot said in a statement.

The agency says it wants inspectors to focus on issues that pose the greatest health risks to the public.

Georgia produces more chickens for meat consumption — 1.3 billion a year — than any other state, so the USDA’s proposed changes are critically important here. The agency has not said when it will make its final decision on the proposal. The new system would be voluntary, though FSIS expects all but the smallest poultry plants to opt in. Advocates say that’s because the other option would prohibit those plants from remaining competitive in the industry. The biggest changes would:

– Use workers in chicken and turkey plants to replace all but one federal inspector on the conveyor belt, where bad birds are removed from the production line. (Currently, chicken plants have as many as four federal inspectors on their lines.)

– Let those plants decide how much training their workers receive in identifying diseased or defected birds.

– Enable plants to speed up their slaughter lines so that the sole federal inspector, stationed at the end of the line, would be required to view up to 175 birds per minute. The maximum speed now is 140 per minute, but that workload is divided among four inspectors so that it averages out at 35 per minute for each inspector.

– Let poultry plants decide what dangerous bacteria they test carcasses for and how often they test, and no longer require plants to test for E. coli.

The government says the changes will save taxpayers more than $90 million over three years. But the big winner will be the poultry industry, which will save at least $256 million a year in production costs, the USDA has projected.

But at least one Georgia poultry plant owner isn’t sold on the concept. Will Harris, owner of White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, said he likes having an unbiased third party closely examining each chicken that comes through his production line.

“I don’t want to be the fox that’s guarding the henhouse,” said Harris, whose farm is about 75 miles south of Columbus. Harris also raises grass-fed cattle and sheep and is one of the few operations that handles its own slaughter on-site.

How it works now

Georgia’s largest poultry plants are capable of slaughtering and processing hundreds of thousands of chickens in a day. On the production line, chickens are hung upside down by their feet in shackles, one next to another, and subjected to an electric shock that stuns them into unconsciousness. A razor-sharp blade then cuts the animals’ jugular vein; other devices remove their feathers, heads, feet and internal organs.

As the chickens move down the line, as many as four federal inspectors are stationed to examine them. The line is timed so that birds pass in front of an inspector for about two seconds. The inspectors handle each carcass and peer inside its chest cavity, searching for defects such as disease, infection and fecal contamination; he or she also looks at the bird’s internal organs for signs of disease. The inspector pulls the chicken off the line if any of those conditions is present.

A few times a month, other inspectors take small samples of birds and mail them to federal labs, where they are tested for bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter.

The Food Safety Inspection Service says the new system would require poultry plants to take more responsibility for weeding out birds with diseases, infections and defects. These conditions include an infection of the blood called septicemia, which discolors the bird, and an infection called “inflammatory process,” which can cause a hard yellow scab to form under a chicken’s skin. Currently federal inspectors pull these birds off the line when they spot them; the new rules would largely leave that to plant employees.

In redirecting its inspectors from production lines, FSIS says, more inspectors will be freed up to focus on issues that affect public health, such as salmonella and campylobacter. Yet, under the proposed system, FSIS would not increase testing for those pathogens.

Advocates say they’re not opposed to modernizing poultry inspection and requiring plants to take more ownership of their product. They say, however, that the agency’s proposal goes far beyond that, giving too much control and freedom to poultry plants while also relaxing the government’s oversight.

In 1999, FSIS created a pilot program that allowed 20 chicken plants and five turkey plants to play by a different set of rules. They could run their slaughter lines at faster speeds. They swapped most government inspectors on the lines with their own plant workers. Two plants in that pilot program are in Georgia, one in Gainesville, one in Claxton.

The program is the foundation for the proposed changes. And FSIS documents portray it as an overwhelming success. The agency says the rates of fecal contamination — a major vehicle for spreading bacteria — are lower in the pilot plants. The agency also says the rates of salmonella compare favorably.

Opponents of the proposal say FSIS is distorting the facts on both issues. They cite an audit by the Government Accountability Office in December 2001, which concluded that results from the program would be “unreliable.”

The audit also noted that citations for fecal contamination skyrocketed in poultry plants’ first year in the pilot program.

Critics say FSIS responded by gaming the system. They say the agency allowed the pilot plants to rearrange the production line in a way that largely prevented inspectors from writing citations for fecal contamination.

As a result, the critics say, the citations plummeted. The government says its fecal contamination rates in pilot plants are about half those of other plants’.

“So all those [citations] that were getting written up early on under the [pilot] program because inspectors were finding a lot of fecal, all of a sudden, they all go away,” Nestor said. She is the food-safety consultant to the Government Accountability Project, a Washington group that supports government and corporate whistleblowers.

Asked for a response, FSIS did not address the alleged connection between the citations and the relocation of the employee stations. The agency would not agree to an interview with the AJC for this article but answered some of the newspaper’s questions by email.

Food safety advocates also say that the agency’s statistics on salmonella rates in pilot plants are unimpressive.

Salmonella rates were actually lower in 2009 and 2010 in nonpilot comparison plants than the pilot plants, according to a 2011 evaluation of the pilot program.

‘Going by in a blur’

As birds whiz past them at a rate of three per second, federal inspectors say, it’s impossible to properly inspect all of them.

“There’s no humanly way you can keep up,” said inspector and union official Stan Painter, who works at a pilot plant in Crossville, Ala., that uses the faster line speeds. “They’re going by in a blur.”

FSIS says it’s a reasonable speed, in part because there won’t be as much for the federal inspector to look for. In the new system, plant workers will have already sorted most of the birds with defects and disease.

“Therefore, FSIS inspectors at [pilot plants] are able to inspect carcasses at these line speeds,” according to the agency. It added that inspectors would still have the power to stop or slow the lines if large numbers of birds with defects prevented them from performing proper inspections.

Where federal inspectors now examine each bird’s chest cavity — a frequent hiding place for fecal contamination — they won’t do so under the new system. “Such hand contact will be infrequent,” FSIS says.

The new rules would still dictate that inspectors write citations when they find fecal contamination, Nestor said, “but they’re just not letting inspectors look for fecal.”

For defects that haven’t been proven to harm people, FSIS will let chicken plants set their own standards for weeding them out, a change that inspectors and advocates say will result in more undesirable discoveries in packages.

When it comes to food safety, though, controlling foodborne bacteria is paramount.

Plants are currently required to test a sample of carcasses for E. coli. The new regulation would let them test for the bacteria of their choice but does not set any minimum requirements for how often to test.

“All they’ve done so far is remove regulations,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group. “They haven’t replaced them with better standards.”

What FSIS should do, advocates say, is require all plants to test for the same bacteria, so the agency could track results and identify poor performers.

Reassurance from industry

If plants are largely responsible for removing diseased and unwholesome birds from production, the question is: Will they do it?

The industry says yes.

“If there’s any defects on those birds at all, they’re coming off the line,” said Ashley Peterson, vice president of science and technology for the National Chicken Council.

Others fear the worst.

David Barrett, a federal inspector assigned to poultry plants in Gainesville, worked in the industry as a young man. He says he was told to do things he knew were wrong, such as picking up contaminated birds off the floor and putting them back into production. His desire to right those wrongs led him to become an inspector.

Barrett, stressing that he is speaking on his own behalf and not for his agency, said he believes plant workers will be pressured to keep as many birds as possible in production.

“They don’t like it when we slow the lines down,” Barrett said of plant supervisors. “You think they’re going to allow their own people to do it?”

Inspectors and advocates also say it’s a mistake not to require training for poultry workers on how to identify diseased or infected birds.

“I have a problem with that,” said Brian Lubke, also a federal inspector in Gainesville speaking on his own behalf. “Do these people know what they’re looking for?”

The government has had plenty of time to decide whether to require training for plant employees; the 2001 audit recommended it to ensure “that plant personnel are as competent as federal inspectors.”

The agency hasn’t heeded the advice. “It would [be] appropriate for the establishment to determine the type of training its employees need,” FSIS says.

Other countries with similar inspection programs keep their meat or poultry plants on a shorter leash:

– In New Zealand, the USDA requires that company workers receive training equivalent to that of a U.S. federal inspector — a much higher standard than it is proposing here — if the plant exports meat to the U.S.

– Employees at Australian plants that export meat must undergo about 500 hours of training to inspect meat.

– In Canada, the government trains plant workers for two months before they may inspect poultry.

‘Phoning it in’

Advocates say FSIS should reexamine its plan.

Some criticized the agency for not consulting with its own advisory committee before announcing its plans. The committee directly advises Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“I certainly am irritated and annoyed,” said Patricia Buck, a member of the National Advisory Committee on Meat & Poultry Inspection. “It should not happen this way again.”

After members complained, the agency organized a two-hour phone conference call with the committee, which usually meets in person and for longer stretches. They also were not permitted to ask questions.

“It was phoning it in — the perfect use of that phrase,” said committee member Sarah Klein, an attorney with the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

At least one elected official wants FSIS to put the brakes on its proposal.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, asked GAO to conduct another audit of FSIS’s pilot program. The agency said it will do so soon. She then sent a letter to Vilsack, asking him to delay the changes.

“I do not believe USDA should yield inspection responsibilities to plant personnel that have an inherent conflict of interest unless [the pilot program] can be independently verified to be safe and effective,” Gillibrand wrote.

Vilsack wrote back to Gillibrand in a letter filled with FSIS’s talking points on the issue. But more notable is what’s missing: Vilsack doesn’t address the senator’s request.

Reading between the lines, advocates say, that doesn’t spell good news.

10 years of salmonella outbreaks

Georgia experienced more than 300 outbreaks of salmonella poisoning between 2000 and 2010. Some of the outbreaks occurred in multiple states, so the numbers of total cases, hospitalizations and deaths did not all occur here.

Total outbreaks in Georgia: 306

Total cases: 13,346

Hospitalizations: 1,265

Deaths: 26

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

5 years of individual cases

Individual cases of salmonella poisoning in Georgia increased by 37 percent from 2007 to 2010 before dipping slightly in 2011. Tainted chicken is the most common source of salmonella bacteria, but it is far from the only source. These numbers reflect total cases from all sources. Cases of campylobacter infection, also often traced to poultry, were roughly the same in 2007 and 2011, with some fluctuation in between.

Samonella infections in Georgia

2007 2008 2009 2010 2011

2,047 2,285 2,375 2,806 2,666

Campylobactor infections in Georgia

2007 2008 2009 2010 2011

688 683 740 598 697

Source: Georgia Department of Public Health

http://www.ajc.com/news/playing-chicken-on-food-1491072.html

57 Health Benefits of Going Vegan as Taught to Nurses

57 Health Benefits of Going Vegan

From NursingDegree.net

Vegans are frequently misunderstood as fringe eaters with an unnatural passion for animal rights. While many vegans do feel passionately about animals, its time for others to see that a vegan diet and lifestyle go way beyond animal rights. Following a healthy, balanced vegan diet ensures a host of health benefits as well as prevention of some of the major diseases striking people in North America. Read these blogs to find out about the health benefits or going vegan or just provide better information to your patients.

Nutrition

All of the following nutritional benefits come from a vegan diet full of foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, and soy products.

  1. Reduced saturated fats. Dairy products and meats contain a large amount ofsaturated fats. By reducing the amount of saturated fats from your diet, you’ll improve your health tremendously, especially when it comes to cardiovascular health.
  2. Carbohydrates. Carbohydrates provide energy for your body. When you don’t have enough carbohydrates, your body will burn muscle tissue.
  3. Fiber. A diet high in fiber (as vegan eating usually is) leads to healthier bowel movements. High fiber diets help fight against colon cancer.
  4. Magnesium. Aiding in the absorption of calcium, magnesium is an often overlooked vitamin in importance to a healthy diet. Nuts, seeds, and dark leafy greens are an excellent source of magnesium.
  5. Potassium. Potassium balances water and acidity in your body and stimulates the kidneys to eliminate toxins. Diets high in potassium have shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
  6. Folate. This B vitamin is an important part of a healthy diet. Folate helps with cell repair, generating red and white blood cells, and metabolizing amino acids.
  7. Antioxidants. For protection against cell damage, antioxidants are one of the best ways to help your body. Many researchers also believe that antioxidants helpprotect your body against forming some types of cancer.
  8. Vitamin C. Besides boosting your immune system, Vitamin C also helps keep your gums healthy and helps your bruises heal faster. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant.
  9. Vitamin E. This powerful vitamin has benefits for your heart, skin, eyes, brain, and may even help prevent Alzheimer’s Disease. A diet high in grains, nuts, and dark leafy greens is full of Vitamin E.
  10. Phytochemicals. Plant-based foods provide phytochemicals, which help to prevent and heal the body from cancer, boost protective enzymes, and work with antioxidants in the body.
  11. Protein. That protein is good for your body is no surprise. It may be a surprise to learn that most Americans eat too much protein and in forms such as red meat that are not healthy ways of getting protein. Beans, nuts, peas, lentils, and soy products are all great ways to get the right amount of protein in a vegan diet.

Disease Prevention

Eating a healthy vegan diet has shown to prevent a number of diseases. Find out from the list below what you could potentially avoid just by switching to a healthy, balanced vegan way of eating.

  1. Cardiovascular disease. Eating nuts and whole grains, while eliminating dairy products and meat, will improve your cardiovascular health. A British study indicates that a vegan diet reduces the risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Vegan diets go far in preventing heart attack and stroke.
  2. Cholesterol. Eliminating any food that comes from an animal and you will eliminate all dietary cholesterol from your diet. Your heart will thank you for that.
  3. Blood pressure. A diet rich in whole grains is beneficial to your health in many ways, including lowering high blood pressure.
  4. Type 2 diabetes. Not only is a vegan diet a weapon against Type 2 diabetes, it is also “easier to follow than the standard diet recommended by the American Diabetic Association.” Read more about it here.
  5. Prostate cancer. A major study showed that men in the early stages of prostate cancer who switched to a vegan diet either stopped the progress of the cancer or may have even reversed the illness.
  6. Colon cancer. Eating a diet consisting of whole grains, along with fresh fruits and vegetables, can greatly reduce your chances of colon cancer.
  7. Breast cancer. Countries where women eat very little meat and animal products have a much lower rate of breast cancer than do the women in countries that consume more animal products.
  8. Macular degeneration. Diets with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens, carrots, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes, can help prevent the onset of age-related macular degeneration.
  9. Cataracts. Much the same way macular degeneration is headed off by a vegan diet, cataracts are also thought to be prevented through the intake of the same fruits and vegetables. Produce high in antioxidants are also believed to help prevent cataracts.
  10. Arthritis. Eliminating dairy consumption has long been connected with alleviating arthritis symptoms, but a new study indicates that a combination of gluten-free and vegan diet is very promising for improving the health of those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
  11. Osteoporosis. Bone health depends on a balance of neither too much or too little protein, adequate calcium intake, high potassium, and low sodium. With a healthy vegan diet, all four of these points set a perfect scenario for preventing osteoporosis.

Physical Benefits

In addition to good nutrition and disease prevention, eating vegan also provides many physical benefits. Find out how a vegan diet makes your body stronger, more attractive, and more energetic.

  1. Body Mass Index. Several population studies show that a diet without meat leads to lower BMIs–usually an indicator of a healthy weight and lack of fat on the body.
  2. Weight loss. A healthy weight loss is a typical result of a smart vegan diet. Eating vegan eliminates most of the unhealthy foods that tend to cause weight issues. Read more about weight loss and a vegan diet here.
  3. Energy. When following a healthy vegan diet, you will find your energy is much higher. This blog post in Happy Healthy Long Life describes how NFL tight-endTony Gonzalez started eating vegan and gained energy–while playing football.
  4. Healthy skin. The nuts and vitamins A and E from vegetables play a big role in healthy skin, so vegans will usually have good skin health. Many people who switch to a vegan diet will notice a remarkable reduction in blemishes as well.
  5. Longer life. Several studies indicate that those following a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle live an average of three to six years longer than those who do not.
  6. Body odor. Eliminating dairy and red meat from the diet significantly reduces body odor. Going vegan means smelling better.
  7. Bad breath. Vegans frequently experience a reduction in bad breath. Imagine waking up in the morning and not having morning breath.
  8. Hair. Many who follow vegan diets report that their hair becomes stronger, has more body, and looks healthier.
  9. Nails. Healthy vegan diets are also responsible for much stronger, healthier nails. Nail health is said to be an indicator of overall health.
  10. PMS. When switching to a vegan diet, many women tell how PMS symptoms become much less intense or disappear altogether. The elimination of dairy is thought to help with those suffering with PMS.
  11. Migraines. Migraine suffers who go on vegan diets frequently discover relief from their migraines. Read more about the food-migraine connection in this article.
  12. Allergies. Reduction in dairy, meat, and eggs is often tied to alleviation of allergy symptoms. Many vegans report much fewer runny noses and congestion problems.

Too Much in the American Diet

The typical American diet not only consists of too much food, it also relies on too much of unnecessary food products or toxins. The following list explains how a vegan diet can eliminate these problems.

  1. Animal proteins. The average American eats twice as much protein as necessary for a healthy diet and much of that is from red meat. Getting protein from beans and grains is much healthier and reduces the risk for osteoporosis (see above).
  2. Cow’s milk dairy. The human body is not designed to digest cow milk and cow milk dairy products, yet the idea of milk being healthy is pushed through advertising. As many as 75% of people in the world may be lactose intolerant and many people suffer from undiagnosed milk allergies or sensitivities. By eliminating cow’s milk from your diet, you are improving your overall health.
  3. Eggs. Many nutritionists believe that the number of eggs in the American diet is too high. While sometimes disputed, it has been shown that eggs can raise cholesterol levels.
  4. Mercury. Most of the fish and shellfish consumed has mercury in it. While some fish have less than others, it is almost impossible not to be putting mercury in your body when you eat fish.
  5. Sugar. Most people have heard that Americans consume way too much sugar. Relying on other sweeteners that are not synthetic, processed, or derived from animal products is a healthier way to eat. Many vegans do not eat processed sugar due to the fact that most of the cane sugar is refined through activated charcoal, most of which comes from animal bones.

Other Benefits

In addition to the health benefits above, following a vegan lifestyle and diet also provides these benefits as well. From helping the environment to avoiding serious bacterial infections, learn other benefits to eating the vegan way below.

  1. Animals. Many people begin a vegan diet out of concern for animals. Whether opposed to the conditions of animals intended for food or eating animals in general, going vegan will help your conscience rest easily.
  2. Environment. Growing plants takes much fewer resources than growing animals. By eating vegan, you can help reduce the toll on the environment.
  3. E. coliE. coli comes from eating contaminated red meat and is the leading cause of bloody diarrhea. Young children, those with compromised immune systems, and elderly people can become extremely ill or die from E. coli. Eating vegan means completely avoiding the risk of E. coli infection.
  4. Salmonella. Another gastrointestinal illness from animal products, salmonella food poisoning is closely related to E. coli. The most frequent way people contract salmonella food poisoning is through contact with raw eggs or raw chicken meat from chickens infected with salmonella. Again, going vegan means eliminating this risk altogether.
  5. Mad cow disease. It’s safe to say that most people would want to avoid contracting a fatal, non-treatable disease. One way to ensure you don’t get Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is by not eating animals infected with mad cow disease. While the incidence of mad cow disease is not reportedly so high in North America, it does exist.
  6. Global food supply. Feeding grain to animals meant as food sources reduces the amount of food that is available to underdeveloped nations. Many people will go hungry while that same food they could be eating is given to animals raised for slaughter. Eating vegan ensures that you have removed yourself from the participation of this imbalance.
  7. Hormone consumption. Eating animals that have been given hormones to speed growth (a common practice in the meat industry) means those hormones go into your body. Not only can this disrupt the natural balance of your hormones, but some of the hormones given to animals have shown to cause tumor growth in humans.
  8. Antibiotics. Antibiotics are frequently given to feed animals, which can lead to bacterial resistance. Many of the antibiotics used to treat human infections are also used in feed animals.

Read the rest at:  http://www.nursingdegree.net/blog/19/57-health-benefits-of-going-vegan/

Live From The Cutting Room Floor Mark Bittman

April 9, 2012, 3:55 PM

Live From the Cutting Room Floor

By MARK BITTMAN
The author discussing pink slime with Chris Hayes and company on April 7.MSNBCThe author discussing pink slime with Chris Hayes and company on April 7.

I was a guest on “Up w/Chris Hayes” Saturday, talking, it seemed, about everything: a bit of an ambitious agenda. When I go back, the conversation will continue.

Meanwhile, since the initial topic was “pink slime,” about which I wrote last week, I used my pre-air time in the studio to outline the issues I thought were worth mentioning. We didn’t get to a tenth of this, so I thought it worth posting.

(I was taught never to apologize for a story submission, but these are close to stream-of-consciousness. But hey: that’s why god invented blogging.)

Perhaps you’ll find some things of interest:

1. Democracy. Are we entitled to know what goes in our food? The answer’s easy, but Big Food thinks it’s “no.” It’s not just ammonia in beef, it’s arsenic and antibiotics – banned antibiotics at that, and Prozac and all kinds of drugs – in chicken and pork. It’s growth hormones in milk, it’s genetically engineered ingredients in just about everything. And we’re told about none of this unless some concerned and often courageous citizen or journalist starts making noise about it.

Just Label It!

That’s what’s been encouraging about this pink slime business (and that’s what’s encouraging about ag-gag laws) – how hard it’s being fought. Not that we’re going to get rid of it, not because it’s a major issue in the great scheme of things — it matters, of course, but there are many other, greater problems — but that public pressure is causing changes, like improved labeling. (Almost everyone polled wants to know whether there are genetically engineered products in their foods, and whether ultimately that’s important or not doesn’t really matter, if it’s something everyone wants.) Public pressure can also reduce our reliance on factory farms and industrial agriculture in general, public pressure can make our food supply safer and better, and in turn make us a healthier country.

That’s why the pink slime campaign is important: it’s a victory for public pressure over corporate power and therefore one for democracy. Note, too, that this happened nationally, which shows once again that noisemaking and protests are good for more than local issues.

2. Why is this happening in the first place? Pink slime and E.coli/salmonella; the chicken arsenic and inspection issues about which Nick Kristof wrote last week, cuts in funding at the U.S.D.A., F.D.A., E.P.A., and so on … what we’re seeing are budget cuts as a form of deregulation, and that deregulation is geared toward allowing producers to raise the animals in our food supply any damn way they please, in the most profitable way possible.

As anyone who’s been following these issues knows, cattle are meant to eat grass, not grain. Yet most cattle are fed grain, almost exclusively, and grain messes with their digestive systems. Those cows’ messed-up stomachs become breeding grounds for E.coli — which can cause kidney failure and death — and salmonella, which is rarely deadly but can be extremely unpleasant. (You know how when you have the flu you want to die? Like that.) To combat this, producers must use boatloads of antibiotics — 80 percent of all antibiotics used in this country are given to animals, and the vast majority of those are given prophylactically — and resort to techniques like treating meat with ammonia or (perhaps a shade less distastefully) irradiation.

Pink slime, or "lean finely textured beef," as it's referred to in polite company.Jamieoliver.comPink slime, or “lean finely textured beef,” as it’s referred to in polite company.

You might argue that these are public health measures, and in a perverse way they are — they’re making an unsafe product less so — but why do we need them in the first place? Because our production methods create problems. And Big Food, which finds these methods enormously profitable, wants us to deal with the symptoms of the problems (wash tainted meat in ammonia) rather than the problems themselves (raise healthy cattle). To defund programs that attempt to bring those production methods — the real problem — under control, to make them safer, better and healthier, is the equivalent of defunding sewage systems because we’re able to wash down our streets with ammonia. If you get my drift. It ain’t pretty.

3. The jobs issue: I am really annoyed about the “this costs jobs” nonsense, which is simply a line Republicans dredge up when they don’t like something. They’re not complaining about Apple doing all its manufacturing in China, and they don’t make noise when auto workers are laid off, and they certainlydon’t care when budget cuts reduce the number of ag inspectors or administrators in the SNAP program. They only kvetch about job losses when it suits them politically.

We need to push Democrats to have more spine to support intelligent measures even if they “cost jobs.” The extreme example is tobacco: I’m sorry if tobacco farmers can’t sell their crop, but their crop breeds death; I’ll be sorry, too, when Americans stop eating so much meat and people in that industry start losing jobs. I’d be sorry for people on the automatic weapons assembly line if gun control ever develops any teeth. (I’ll be sorry for the unemployed grief counselors, too.)

But if a product means death for you or your neighbor or the environment, we simply shouldn’t be producing it. If people lose their jobs as a result, I’m sympathetic, but we can’t be supporting a process that poisons our citizenry. The extreme example would be to complain about health care workers losing their jobs if we were to eat less industrially processed food and get healthier as a result. If the only way to keep unemployment “down” is to employ people creating deadly products or dealing with their consequences, maybe that’s worth looking at.

If you want to create jobs in the food supply, let’s have real farmers raise real animals, and let’s double the number of inspectors, so we can create jobs that protect people, not jobs that kill them. Sheesh.

Michael Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the F.D.A.U.S. Food and Drug AdministrationMichael Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the F.D.A.

4. Finally, a word about Michael Taylor, the so-called food safety czar who is a former Monsanto lobbyist. At the moment we have little room for hope that the food system will be fundamentally changed, but it’s not precisely Taylor’s fault. The changes we need to see are not forthcoming because a) they’re not priorities for the Obama administration and b) even if they were, the administration would be fought to death on them.

I do want to remind everyone, however, that candidate Obama thought G.M.O. labeling was a great idea; President Obama, evidently, doesn’t care so much. Yet a million people signed a petition asking the F.D.A. to mandate labeling of G.M.O. foods and in polls, something like 80 or 90 percent of Americans want that to happen. The fact that it hasn’t happened is not Taylor’s fault, but because Monsanto still has a disproportionate amount of influence, which it would no matter who was in charge of this stuff. Margaret Hamburg, ostensibly Taylor’s boss, is one of the good guys.

Not that I’m in favor of Taylor, and not that I think he’s going to be helpful in getting G.M.O.s labeled. But once again, he’s a symptom — not the disease.

reprinted from:  http://bittman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/09/live-from-the-cutting-room-floor/

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