As our Friend and contributor, Diane Stirling-Stevens, says of this article, “Another bit of news that made me do “#$*&(#$&(*#$&(#*&$#”.” We couldn’t agree more. Big Ag is a significant economic and health issue, and we remain hopeful that the new administration will address it.
Richard Jehn / The Rag Blog
Malia and Sasha Obama started school on Monday at Sidwell Friends in Washington, and in addition to a lovely Quaker-inflected education, they’re going to be enjoying a lunch program that relies on organic foods, with menus that are well planned and highly nutritious. It’s all of a piece with Sidewell’s excellent program of environmental stewardship, which teaches ethical and green values with concrete things like locally grown veggie stew. Malia and Sasha definitely won’t be eating lunch meat purchased from companies with terrible food safety, pollution and ethics problems, but your kids might be, because the USDA just bailed out the top two poultry producers in the US with a $42 million purchase of chicken products, which are going into school lunch programs across the country. The bailed-out poultry companies, unfortunately, both have ridiculously bad track records.
Pilgrim’s Pride gets $30 million of the bailout money because they filed for bankruptcy last month. But it’s difficult to believe anyone actually wants to eat Pilgrim’s Pride products, let alone that these products are now going to be fed to children. In 2002, listeria-contaminated products from Pilgrim’s Pride were responsible for 7 deaths, 149 hospitalizations, and a huge wave of illness among people who’d eaten the contaminated foods (more details here). The recall of more than 29.5 million pounds of meat was then a record breaker. Worse, Pilgrim’s Pride had known about their listeria contamination for months before taking action, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service had cited them for more than 40 infractions previously (mold, cockroaches, leftover food on conveyor belts…). In 2004, Pilgrim’s had another very high profile “problem” with horrifying animal abuse in one of their facilities (videotaped, of course), which led to more state and federal investigations, and public outrage.
How, you may wonder, does a food company that murders people, sickens thousands, is cited repeatedly by state and federal agencies for safety infractions, and mistreats its food animals, remain in business and get bailout money, and have their food served to kids, who are even more susceptible to foodborne illnesses than adults?? Yeah, that’s The Question of The Ages.
Tysons Foods, the second largest poultry producer in the US, is also getting bailout bucks, and they have a grim history, too. They’ve been sued many times for making people ill with contaminated products; they’ve been involved in a years-long lawsuit brought by the state of Oklahoma for dumping poultry excrement into the Illinois River watershed (poisoning the water supply), they’ve been sued for injecting eggs with antibiotics so they can claim their chickens are “antibiotic-free;” former employees say the company slaughtered chickens inhumanely; and Tyson’s has also been placed under a federal consent decree for maintaining facilities segregated by race at one of their processing plants.
With this bailout, USDA is, once again, putting economics ahead of public health. Could Barack stop the chicken from these two companies from getting on to childrens’ lunch plate? Another Question For The Ages. He should put an end to this kind of insanity, because he’s a big proponent of school lunch programs. As a Senator, Barack voted for The Farm Bill, and he went on the record as saying it was in part because of the billions of dollars earmarked for nutrition assistance and school lunches. In general, this is a terrific thing, because the statistics hardly need repeating: Nearly one in six children and teens are overweight, and diet-related (Type II) diabetes — until recently rare in children — is reaching epidemic levels. But we’re pretty sure Bam had no idea that two companies with appalling safety records might in future be allowed to dump 60 millions pounds of their products on to lunch trays nationwide. Neither Pilgrim’s Pride nor Tysons represents the kind of “change” in agriculture policies that Obama says he stands for; nor are they ethical or environmentally friendly. But this kind of bailout nonsense is something Barack will face repeatedly when he takes office; the USDA and FDA are both notorious for protecting the interests of business rather than the interests of American consumers. And we haven’t even touched on the nutrition/health aspects of Pilgrim’s Pride and Tyson’s products. Both companies feed their chickens chow that is from genetically modified corn, a controversial food source because it may well lead to health problems on its own, such as infertility, allergies, obesity…and both companies produce “fast foods,” such as chicken fingers and chickens nuggets…
Obama Mamas (and Papas!) all over the country will be sending their kids to school to dine out on the terrible leftovers of the Bush administrations’ awful food and farming policies, and Barack needs to move as swiftly as possible to make sure all kids will be able to eat school lunches like those Malia and Sasha will be enjoying. Alice Waters has been working hard to try to get Barack converted to the ethical/sustainable foodist program, but she hasn’t been lobbying–yet–over school lunch programs, even though her own Chez Panisse Foundation was a pioneer in creating grow-your-own/locally sourced school lunch programs. It’s dire that Barack gets up to speed on this, too. All children should be able to eat the way Malia and Sasha will at Sidwell Friends, and that’s not just pie-in-the sky thinking. It’s possible, and necessary.
Source / La Vida Locavore
Thanks to Diane Stirling-Stevens / The Rag Blog