Friday, June 13, 2008

Bad Cow Disease

Article by Paul Krugman in today's Times about how declining standards of food regulation in the US has led to repeated outbreaks of diseased foods - most recently tomatoes - but more, had made it hard to sell our produce overseas to peoples who are not as blase about the purity of their food as Americans seem to be.

I agree with Krugman's analysis as far as it goes - having cronies in positions of oversight is obviously a Bad Thing, and starving the FDA of resources and personnel at a time of rapidly expanding technological change in the food industry is going to cause problems in the supply chain.

But the deeper problem is reflected in the very idea of thinking of food in terms of a "supply chain." The reason inspections are so important is because of the sheer scale of the American corporate food system - massive feedlots and slaughter houses, bioengineering, use of pesticides and monocultures, etc. etc. etc. If we looked at this dysfunctional system at all deeply we would realize that it's poisonous (sometimes quite literally) to its core and we'd be out on the streets like the South Koreans. That's why the corporate powers-that-be and their political handmaidens make sure that inspections are curtailed - it's like the mob being in charge of the homocide department, hiring the (few) detectives (from within) and deciding what and how they could investigate.

In a context like this increased inspections or regulation will only affect those who are least likely to be causing the problem. In Sandor Katz's book, Joel Salatin points out that a small scale producer like him cannot slaughter his animals on site because of the incredible amount of regulations that exist, designed to deal with industrial slaughterhouses. So instead he has to put them on a truck to that very industrial slaughterhouse, and that he cannot then sell the product back on his farm. The rules weren't meant for him, but they affect him, and all of us.

In a situation of rule by corporations, for corporations, increased regulation and inspection would, I fear, only be bandaids for the whole system of corporate agriculture which is the underlying issue.

1 comment:

Mary T said...

Very interesting post. It does make one think for sure. Big government though, it does have some advantages--but yup there's bound to be corruption. Still all in all, I think America is better fed than most countries. I'm always for personal freedom however, and I do think farmers ought to be able to slaughter their own animals on small farms--if they can do it safely.