Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

You are what you eat

With the recent revelations that the Peanut Corporation of America knowingly shipped salmonella-laden peanut butter to consumers, which has led to 600+ sick, at least nine dead and thousands of recalled products, one of the first things the Obama Administration needs to do is regulate the food industry. I say regulate, because as we've seen with the financial services industry, it seems the lunatics have been running the asylum.

E-mails and other documents released by the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations indicate the company and its executives knew their products contained salmonella and shipped them out anyway to keep the money flowing.

• In one e-mail, Lightsey wrote Parnell and discussed positive salmonella tests on one batch of its products. Parnell gave instructions to nonetheless “turn them loose” after getting a negative test result from another testing company.


Even in the heat of the nationwide outbreak, Parnell seemed more worried about his company’s profits than with food safety, according to regulators and congressional investigators.

On Jan. 19, Parnell sent an e-mail to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, pleading with the agency to let it continue its business. He wrote that company executives “desperately at least need to turn the raw peanuts on our floor into money.”

It wasn't just the raw peanuts on the floor being turned into money. The Peanut Corporation of America, as we have learned had some special ingredients in the peanut products, which bring to mind a certain book by Upton Sinclair.

The Texas Department of State Health Services on Thursday ordered the recall of all products ever shipped from the Peanut Corporation of America's plant in Plainview, Texas, after discovering dead rodents, rodent excrement and bird feathers in the plant.

Can this really be happening in America in this day and age? Profit before public health? It can and it is. But it's not just lack of inspections of plants that is endangering public health. How about a side of antibiotics with your meal?

It's well known by now that livestock in feedlots across the Midwest are fed a steady diet of corn (not the animals' natural diet, which is grass) and antibiotics (to keep them as healthy as possible in abysmal living conditions), to fatten them up to get the highest and best price when they are slaughtered. Those antibiotics are in the meat that we consume daily. But did you know the antibiotics are also in the crops you're eating, even the ones labeled organic?

“Around 90 percent of these drugs that are administered to animals end up being excreted either as urine or manure,” said Holly Dolliver, a member of the Minnesota research team and now a professor of crop and soil sciences at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. “A vast majority of that manure is then used as an important input for 9.2 million hectares of (U.S.) agricultural land.”

Manure, widely used as a substitute for chemical fertilizer, adds nutrients that help plants grow. It is often used in organic farming.


Tainted manure can impact more than just the soil. Once applied to the land, antibiotics can infiltrate water supplies as it seeps through the soil into aquifers or spills into surface water due to runoff, explained Dolliver.

So the soil additives (read: antibiotic-laced livestock manure) being used to increase the yield of farmers' crops is adding to the problem in the rise of drug-resistant bacteria.

But wait, there's more. While the FDA has a ban on feeding the remains of cattle to other cattle at the feedlot (because of conclusive evidence linking the practice to mad cow disease), some of the other ingredients in the feed are troubling. In his book The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan writes:

Feather meal and chicken litter (that is, bedding, feces and discarded bits of feed) are accepted cattle feeds, as are chicken, fish and pig meal. Some public health experts worry that since the bovine meat and bonemeal that cows used to eat is now being fed to chickens, pigs and fish. infectious prions could find their way back into cattle when they're fed the protein of the animals that have been eating them.

Would you eat ground up bones, feathers and feces of another animal? Does it sound like an appealing dinner option to you? So why then is it not common sense that we shouldn't be pumping our food supply full of these same things? My guess is that once again, profit trumps public health. Why feed the animals their natural diet, when its much cheaper to feed them processed corn and the ground up remains of other animals and their waste products?

If we are what we eat, why would any of us want to eat anything I've described above? And why would any of us permit our government to allow this to happen?


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