Talk about paranoia: I’ve just read that the catering company which runs the various cafeterias on Capitol Hill is stopping its promotion of “Meatless Mondays.” The reason? An intensive meat industry front group, the entertainingly-named Farm Animal Welfare Coalition, has pressurized the catering company to cease supporting Meatless Monday on the basis that the promotion is actually an “acknowledged tool of animal rights and environmental organizations.”
Unapproved, unwanted, and now out of control: the news that an unlicensed genetically modified (GM) wheat has been found growing on a field in Oregon – almost 10 years after it was supposed to have completely destroyed – sent shivers down my spine. I've been blogging about the known and unknown risks of GM crops for a while. But we are now witnessing a real ‘escape-from-the-laboratory’ nightmare and, in a worst-case scenario, the impacts on U.S. agriculture could be truly devastating.
Well, it’s official: the United States of America is on its way to becoming China’s cesspool. Or the world's largest “CAFO”… As reported by almost every major media outlet, Smithfield Foods – the nation’s biggest pork producer – is being sold to Shuanghui International, one of China’s biggest meat processors, for $7.1 billion (including assumed debts). According to the New York Times, it’s the largest takeover to date of an American company by a Chinese rival.
It’s the kind of farfetched plot you’d expect to see in a James Bond or Jason Bourne movie. You know, where the bad guys are found to be secretly coercing governments – and even entire countries – to aid corporate global domination, and where good old Felix from the CIA saves the day and helps Mr. Bond defeat the evildoers. But in a bizarre twist to the plot, it now looks like the real-life U.S. Government officials have actually been working for the likes of Monsanto and the Big Ag lobby all along. A devastating new report by Food & Water Watch – entitled Biotech Ambassadors: How the US State Department Promotes the Seed Industry’s Global Agenda – reveals that the U.S. State Department has been aggressively pursuing foreign food and agricultural policies that seek to benefit the vested interests of the largest biotech seed corporations – often collaborating directly with representatives from Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta, Bayer CropScience and Dow Agrochemical.
Maybe it’s time we demanded a health warning on intensively produced meat products. Because when it comes to the link between modern so-called science-based industrial livestock farming and the rise of life-threatening antibiotic resistant bacteria, the evidence just keeps on coming. Hot on the heels of a damning report by the Environmental Working Group, which revealed high levels of potentially life-threatening antibiotic-resistant bacteria on raw supermarket meat, the respected Consumer Reports has found potential disease-causing organisms in 90 percent of ground turkey samples purchased from stores nationwide. What’s more, many of the bacteria they identified were resistant to more than three antibiotic drug classes.
We can be pretty certain that in the coming days we will hear this message over and over again "So what if most of the meat on our supermarket shelves is contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria? If you handle and cook your meat properly then a few bacteria shouldn’t be a problem; and if you get sick with an untreatable disease then it’s your own fault.' This is the kind of contemptible retort we can expect from the intensive meat industry lobby and its many trolls in response to new research by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which reveals high levels of life-threatening antibiotic-resistant bacteria on raw supermarket meat. Yet the “cook it properly and everything will be OK” spin is just Big Ag’s latest attempt to absolve itself of any responsibility for squandering one of the most important medical innovations of our time– and putting American lives at risk.
The use and misuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture is a hot topic. Only earlier this month, the UK Government’s Chief Medical Officer weighed into the debate and said that the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria risks a global health catastrophe that ranks alongside the threat of climate change or terrorism. It’s serious stuff.
It’s a well-known PR tactic to release bad or potentially unpopular news during the Holiday Season. So I always keep my eyes peeled to catch any news releases that might otherwise slip the net. I didn’t have to wait long. On December 21, when most people were focusing on their upcoming festivities, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) quietly released its draft environmental assessment on the highly controversial genetically engineered (GE) salmon, created by AquaBounty Technologies Inc.
We know that most of the world’s hungry live in the developing nations in the South. They are hungry because they cannot afford to buy food or grow it themselves, usually because of poverty, but also due to conflict, poor infrastructure, poor agricultural practices, and the over-exploitation of the environment, among other things. They are also hungry because much of their agricultural production is focused on generating food and livestock feed to supply Western markets. Recent price rises caused by harvest failures, commodity speculation, and the diversion of grain to produce biofuels over recent years have hardly helped matters (see for example Tom Philpott’s excellent blog on the horrendous impact U.S. biofuels policy is having on global food prices – and hunger).
As the year comes to an end it’s become a tradition of mine to write a note of gratitude to Big Ag for the many ‘gifts’ they’ve given us throughout the year that we didn’t really want, need or – in some cases – didn’t even know about. Here’s my top 10 for 2012... #10 – Undermining Organic With Industrial Practices Many people are putting their faith in the “certified organic” label as an easy way to support farming systems that care about animal welfare, our health and the health of the planet. But the popularity of organic food is attracting industrial-scale operators who are exploiting the organic regulations for their own short-term gains. In October, news broke that a large-scale “organic” egg producer was being sued for making misleading marketing claims about the welfare of its chickens. Judy's Family Farm Organic Eggs’ cartons feature images of hens roaming on green fields, while the carton explains the hens are “raised in wide open spaces in Sonoma Valley, where they are free to ‘roam, scratch, and play’.” Yet it’s alleged that the birds are kept in covered sheds with no outdoor access, misleading consumers. Sadly, this isn’t an isolated incident...