August 25, 2010

Food For Thought: We Can Have Food And Thought, Or Else Neither


The salmonella egg scare is just the latest outbreak of corporate food-borne illness. I’m sure it won’t be the last or anywhere near the worst, in spite of the purported food safety bill now moving through the Senate to join the predatory bill the House already passed last year.
It’s already clear that even given corporate food production, the egg outbreak could have been prevented with the simple expedient of vaccination. Britain instituted this ten years ago and saw salmonella incidence plummet.
But of course our corporate-captured FDA decreed that there “wasn’t sufficient evidence” to take this measure. That’s a basic difference between Europe and the corporatized US: Over there they still recognize the precautionary principle, which is really just common sense. Where there’s any question, as there always is with any new development in industrial agriculture, the burden of proof must be on the technological or organizational “innovator” to prove his practice is safe, not on those who wish to take precautions to prove that it’s unsafe (which usually can’t be done until it’s too late).
So here we are again. One of the criminals responsible is a familiar name from previous outbreaks, worker abuse, accusations of rape, and endless incidents of contempt for the most basic rules of food safety, Jack DeCoster and his company, Wright County Farms. This guy’s record really is something to see. Sometimes real Mwa-ha-ha type evil finds room to gratify itself under the fig leaf of “business”. That’s an example of the FDA’s forbearance in action, and for whom it sees itself as working.
That seems unlikely to change under the food bill. I’ve written before about the House bill from last year (for example here and here), which systematically seeks to destroy small food producers by imposing a one-size-fits-all regime upon them. This regime is calculated to be a mere nuisance to the industrial producers while posing severe financial and logistical hardship on smaller producers. Small-scale producers obviously cannot cause large-scale outbreaks. Only factory farming (CAFOs are in fact unregulated bioweapons labs) and corporate distribution systems can do that. And they have been doing it, as every year brings more severe outbreaks. The swine flu may have originated at a Smithfield factory farm in Mexico*. It’s only a matter of time before a massively lethal pandemic originates at a CAFO.
But for the criminals in Congress the idea was to use these very corporate-caused outbreaks as the pretext to pass pro-monopoly food bills. This is exactly what happened with HR 2749. The Senate bill was originally crafted in the same disaster capitalist way.
[*These bills also seek to tighten the stranglehold of globalization over food, surrendering our food sovereignty completely to anti-sovereign syndicates like the WTO. Let’s recall globalization arch-cadre Paul Krugman’s celebration of CAFOs themselves.]
In committee there were several modifications to the Senate bill:
  • The amendment sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) pertaining to farms that engage in value-added processing or that co-mingle product from several farms.  It will provide the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with the authority to either exempt farms engaged in low or no risk processing or co-mingling activities from new regulatory requirements or to modify particular regulatory requirements for such farming operations.  Included within the purview of the amendment are exemptions or flexibilities with respect to requirements within S. 510 for food safety preventative control plans and FDA on-farm inspections.
  • The amendments sponsored by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) to reduce unnecessary paperwork and excess regulation.  The Bennet language pertains to both the preventative control plan and the produce standards sections of the bill.  FDA is instructed to provide flexibility for small processors including on-farm processing, to minimize the burden of compliance with regulations, and to minimize the number of different standards that apply to separate foods.  FDA will also be prohibited from requiring farms and other food facilities to hire consultants to write food safety plans or to identify, implement, certify or audit those plans. With respect to produce standards, FDA will also be given the discretion to develop rules for categories of foods or for mixtures of foods rather than necessarily needing to have a separate rule for each specific commodity or to regulate specific crops if the real food safety issue involved mixtures only.
  • The amendment sponsored by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) to provide for a USDA-delivered competitive grants program for food safety training for farmers, small processors and wholesalers.  The training projects will prioritize small and mid-scale farms, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, and small food processors and wholesalers.  The program will be administered by USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture.  As is the case for all of the provisions in S. 510, funding for the bill and for this competitive grants program will happen through the annual agriculture appropriations bill process.
  • The effort championed by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to strip the bill of wildlife-threatening enforcement against “animal encroachment” of farms is also in the manager’s package.  It will require FDA to apply sound science to any requirements that might impact wildlife and wildlife habitat on farms.
  • An amendment proposed by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to amend the traceability and recordkeeping section of the bill that will exempt food that is direct marketed from farmers to consumers or to grocery stores and exempt food that has labeling that preserves the identity of the farm that produced the food.  The amendment also prevents FDA from requiring any farm from needing to keep records beyond the first point of sale when the product leaves the farm, except in the case of farms that co-mingle product from multiple farms, in which case they must also keep records one step back as well as one step forward. 

Not in the package but still under serious negotiation for inclusion in the bill when it reaches the floor of the Senate is an amendment by Senator John Tester (D-MT) to exempt food facilities with under a certain annual gross sales threshold from preventative control plan requirements and to exempt farmers who primarily direct market product to consumers, stores or restaurants from the bill’s produce standards regulations.  Our expectation is this amendment will be successfully negotiated over the coming weeks and will be accepted as part of the final bill once the bill reaches the Senate floor.

We also continue to note and emphasize the additional provisions NSAC helped secure when the bill was marked up in Committee last year.  Those changes included:

  • requiring FDA and USDA coordination (including with respect to organic farming);
  • limiting recordkeeping for farmers to just the initial sale to the first purchaser of the crop; and
  • language in the produce section directing FDA to create rules that are appropriate to the scale and diversity of the farm, that take into consideration conservation and environmental standards established by other federal agencies, that do not conflict with organic certification standards, and that prioritize high risk crops.
As a result, some sustainable food organizations now support this version of the bill, and would presumably support a final version which was closer to the Senate bill than the House bill. [Edit: The support of the NSAC, linked here, is contingent on inclusion of the Tester amendment; cf. comment below.]
The fixes still seem weak. The bill still gives the government too little power over the real threat, the industrial producers, and too much over the innocuous small producer. We know how “regulation” always works out. Sure enough, even as the FDA (and other agencies; I’m not even getting into the intentionally Byzantine regulatory structure whereby one agency is responsible for the eggs while they’re still in the shell, another once they’re liquefied and processed, and those federal agencies are responsible except where they’re not and the state is….) refuses to do its public interest job where it comes to the big producers, it’s been launching aggressive raids against small producers. (In principle the bill gives the bureaucracy immense power with little restraint. The implications for civil liberties and unaccountable authoritarianism are chilling.) 
This shows the kleptocracy’s real intent. The goal of these police actions, and the goal of the bills in Congress, has nothing to do with food safety and everything to do with corporate and social control. Corporate food wants a total monopoly on production and distribution. The nascent relocalization movement, which is necessarily focusing on food sustainability as one of its core goals, is a threat to this elite control.
Even if this bill ends up having been stripped of its most overtly aggressive features, it would be foolish to think that’s not just a temporary tactical retrenchment on the part of the power structure. Although some of what’s written about these bills sounds alarmist, the language is clearly being carefully crafted to provide scope for the most far-reaching power assaults, perhaps some years down the line.
That’s why we who want to build new economies and polities from the soil up will have to be ready for civil disobedience and self defense. Although many don’t want to think about it in those terms, I think that’ll be a necessary element for successful relocalization. I plan to develop the idea and try to figure out a strategy when I write more about how we have to conceive and fight the health racket mandate as our Stamp Act.
But as we see with the corporate food bill, there are in fact many Stamp Acts. Just as in the 1760s, the plan is systematic expropriation and feudal indenture. But since we’re commencing upon the descent of the industrial age rather than its ascent, the serfdom in store for us is far more bleak, far worse even than medieval, if we don’t rouse ourselves to redeem our country, our freedom, and our humanity.


  1. Thanks for quoting extensively from our informational alert on S.510 – but you have mischaracterized our position on the Senate Bill. While the Senate bill is an obvious improvement over the House version we won’t “support” the bill unless a strong Tester amendment is included. From the alert: “Assuming the Tester amendment (see below) can be worked out and agreed to before Senate floor action, we will be able to support the Senate bill. However, we strongly oppose the companion House measure, and stand ready to defend the Senate bill in conference with the House should that prove necessary.”

    Comment by Annette Higby — August 25, 2010 @ 8:45 am

    • Thanks, Annette. I added that correction.

      Comment by Russ — August 25, 2010 @ 10:34 am

  2. One is reminded of the medieval lords who forced peasants to use the lord’s mill and pay the lord’s banalities for its use. Power resorts to the same tools over and over to maintain itself. I suppose it’s no surprise how well history rhymes.

    Comment by reslez — August 25, 2010 @ 11:45 pm

    • What’s amazing is how we’re marched back into slavery after having taken a whole course of study in it, including how we can reject it and how we can live so much better, and yet all these sheep are letting themselves be herded anyway.

      It’s as if there’s an immutable slavishness inherent to mankind. It’s as if fossil fuels temporarily forced men to be (somewhat) free, they hated every second of it, and are now ardent to be re-enslaved. It’s as if they can’t reaffix those shackles fast enough.

      Comment by Russ — August 26, 2010 @ 6:11 am

  3. I wish I could reassure you that the European Union has got it right on the precaution principle, and supporting the small producer, but what you’re describing sounds pretty much like business as usual in the E.U. too.
    GMO’s keep getting closer all the time. And all that Kafkaesque regulation ? Gimme a break. Brussels is either imitating the U.S. government, or vice versa.
    I think… that breaking the agro industry in the States and in Europe is a little bit like taking on the Brazilian landowners, for example. (By the way… taking on the agro industry and breaking it WILL AMOUNT to land redistribution… ARE ANY BELLS GOING OFF IN YOUR HEAD as I write this ?)
    But I think that breaking up the agro-industry is the single most important step we could take to get out of where we are now, in many different areas. Lots of things would open up, if we broke this industry.
    I said this morning on another blog, you may feel helpless but… the free market is STILL on your side, and I’m not joking. You STILL have power AS A CONSUMER (and even more power as a.. NOT CONSUMER).
    I cook with almost NO convenience food, and I haven’t even seen a TV dinner for longer than I can remember.
    Things are changing VERY RAPIDLY where I live.
    Like me, lots of people have a small garden, and our local farmers’ markets are doing a roaring business, even with the hypermarket less than three miles away. (The hypermarket, an inflated supermarket, is not doing as well as it used to.) Eventually, if the agro industry, and everybody who is linked to it keeps on being so arrogant and TOTALITARIAN, PEOPLE WILL STOP BUYING THEIR STUFF. (People already are stopping, by the way.) For the time being you can STILL grow your own garden, and even if you live in an apartment, you can buy big plastic tubs and plant cherry tomatoes, for example. Just for starters. And you don’t really need convenience foods. They are expensive, and target… LAZY, UNIMAGINATIVE people. You can whip up a meal from scratch as a working mom, and put it on the table without spending a fortune in less than 20 minutes. (Gotta use your neurons a little bit, though). No excuses for TV dinners. They’re for LAZY PEOPLE.
    The sheep are being herded ?
    A LONG LONG TIME AGO, somebody said..
    “all we like sheep have gone astray, we HAVE TURNED EVERY ONE TO HIS OWN WAY…”.
    Very a propos, don’t you think ?
    i do.
    We never LEFT slavery. It’s a state of mind before anything else, and it happens to the best of us from time to time. Inevitable.
    Nothing new under the sun.
    Ironically, OUR new credo, fossil fuels or not is..
    “Give me security, or give me death”…
    Are you really surprised that our “liberty” is fast going the way of fossil fuels ?

    Comment by Debra — August 27, 2010 @ 2:50 pm

  4. I read through two of your links : “feudal-property” and “land”.
    I see myself nowhere in your categorizations/classifications.
    About 50% of what you’re writing I can agree with, the other 50% provokes an allergic reaction in me.
    I have trained in linguistics (among other interests). What I learned taught me that in order for us to understand the meaning of certain words, we bounce them off others. A recent example… “socialism” bounces off of “capitalism”. “Good” bounces off “bad”, and/or “evil”. “Democracy” bounces off “dictatorship”.
    The MORE words can bounce off other words and not just their antonyms, the better we can refine their meaning, and give SUBTLETY TO OUR THOUGHT (and thus to our society, and our civilization).
    While I agree totally with the idea that we have not done good HUSBANDRY with the land (a GOOD, FEUDAL WORD THAT YOU MIGHT LIKE), the idea that the ONLY (read totalitarian thought in “only”…) thing that gives VALUE to the land is WORKING IT, is not one that I will subscribe to.
    I happen to feel that human beings NEED land that is not domesticated (wilderness) in order to give meaning to the word “human” OR “FREE”, to cite one of our COMMON values. “Free” bounces off “wild”, huh ?
    I also feel that the idea that we will ALL (totalitarian) be happy and virtuous if we are ALL (idem) sweating and breaking our backs at WORK (to keep us occupied and out of trouble) has some flaws in it.
    I read yesterday that ARISTOTLE said something along the lines that a FREE man was one who had not enslaved himself in EARNING/MAKING A LIVING. (Can you imagine ?? EARNING A LIVING ? Positively Orwellian when you let the words REALLY SINK IN, instead of rolling over you because you have got so used to hearing them…)
    Yes, “earning a living” in a factory job IS NOT WORKING THE LAND, and you would be absolutely right to point this out.
    But in the same way as there should be land which escapes the farm use, there should be human activity which escapes the work treadmill.
    For diversity. Variety. So that “work” and “agriculture” can bounce off of wilderness and… ?
    Leisure ? Aristocracy ?
    Leisure does not HAVE to be mindless TV watching or any other kind of mindless activity. It shouldn’t NECESSARILY be that, either. Aristocracy doesn’t have to be (solely…) a predatory, evil uberclass eager to cheat “the people” at every opportunity. (By the way, you SHOULD know that at least A FEW aristocrats participated actively in the French Revolution, and were instrumental in bringing it about.) After all… the rich ARE HUMAN. They eat, sleep, make love, and die JUST LIKE THE POOR.)
    And remember Thoreau.
    HE wasn’t farming on Walden Pond. Don’t think so…
    Please read Jacques Barzun’s book : “From Dawn to Decadence, 500 years of Western Cultural History” if you haven’t already. You would probably enjoy it.
    Now, please excuse me while I get back to it.
    I agree with you that we need to reclaim the land, so that THOSE PEOPLE who feel like they want to BE WORKING IT can BE FREE TO DO SO.
    But… the land for “the people” ?
    I have deep suspicions about the expression “the people”.. JUST WHAT DOES IT BOUNCE OFF OF ?
    It aggregates a large number of very different individuals with different hopes, dreams, and conditions, lumping all these differences under ONE WORD.
    I fear that it is… a fascist word.
    Surprisingly enough… “democracy” and “fascism” bounce off each other really well. They even go hand in hand…

    Comment by Debra — August 28, 2010 @ 6:15 pm

    • Debra, I’m glad you’ve taken the time to bounce your thoughts off those of Russ, but while it’s clear that you don’t agree with what he has to say (only 50% seems like a vast gulf!), I don’t understand why. What makes you think he does not value leisure time or wild areas?

      The way we use words is vitally important to having effective communication. That which is “subtle” might also be “fuzzy”. I think that if you want to capture the subtleties of a system you need a corresponding focus on detail. Using shared, operational definitions of words would go a long way towards facilitating understanding. The overuse of broad political terms like “democracy” and “fascism” just leads to a mental morass.

      Where does your definition of terms differ from his? I suspect you have much more in common than you think.

      Comment by Karl — August 28, 2010 @ 8:46 pm

    • Thanks, Karl. I think you and I understand each other fairly well in spite of disagreements we’ve had. (You know, I have been looking at some of those links you gave me, although my ideas on what really can be the role of “modern” technology both in asymmetrical resistance and post-fossil fuel production are still half-baked so I haven’t written about them yet.)

      Debra, my whole endeavor is about human spiritual fulfillment, which means among other things the ideal of leisure, meaning that we could minimize the amount of work we “have” to do (animal work) in order to maximize the time we devote to fulfilling ourselves as human beings.

      Just because I haven’t written much about it is no reflection on my aspirations toward it. The same goes for wilderness as both an environmental necessity and a spiritual ideal.

      The simple fact is that we’re now engaged in vicious class war, a true civil war in everything but large-scale violence (though military and police violence is of course slowly intensifying, and as we’ve been seeing lately an actual fascist mob is gathering confidence).

      So under those circumstances I’m more focused on trying to figure out how to organize for the struggle. Since it’s clear the class war consciousness isn’t anywhere near actualized enough among we peasants, it seems the first order of business is bringing out that consciousness, by propagating the ideas and trying to rile up the will to fight, as a psychological phenomenon.

      Under those circumstances, we need more militant, uncompromising concepts and language, while a lot of nuance we do actually intend has to be toned down.

      So, in my so far roundabout but hopefully increasingly focused way, I’m writing a What is to be Done?

      As for the Where do we want to go?, I plan to write more about that. Perhaps you’re right that I’ve neglected it too much. (I have sometimes mentioned it in some detail in Naked Capitalism comments, but haven’t devoted posts to it here; I keep saying to myself I need to repost longer comments from elsewhere here as well, but have been neglecting to do it.)

      But as a soldier under fire in a trench, I’ve felt like there hasn’t been much time to think about that other than in the broadest terms.

      (On the other hand, “lighter” posts like today’s on the “public editor” are more a kind of relaxation.)

      You’re absolutely wrong, though, in claiming I’ve been unclear about terms democracy and fascism. Democracy means equality of opportunity for political participation. Fascism is: economically, a command economy which maintains private profit extraction. AKA corporatism. It also means an aggressive police and surveillance state and repression of all true political activity except the officially sanctioned variety. Those are all well advanced and continue to intensify.

      The last aspect of fascism is aggressive pseudo-cultural conformity. We’re increasingly seeing that too, as in the newly intensified anti-Muslim hate campaign.

      The only significant difference between today’s neoliberalism with its culture war trappings and classical fascism is the reversal of the pseudo-cultural and corporate roles of fist and glove. With old-style fascism the “cultural” ideology (racism, nationalism, antiquarian revanchism, etc.) was the fist, today it’s actually the corporations themselves.

      So I am and have been clear about those definitions. What I mean by democracy vs. fascism are antipodes. In a nutshell, it’s political positive freedom vs. the total destruction of politics and of all positive freedom. (And of course the vaunted negative “libertarian” freedom is also being quashed in every way except the economic “liberty” of big “property owners”.)

      Comment by Russ — August 29, 2010 @ 8:17 am

  5. It’s kind of hard to tell, Karl, just exactly HOW MUCH Russ and I share common aspirations.
    Even if we occasionally share the same vocabulary. (By the way I NEVER SAID that you were unclear about your definitions of “democracy” and “fascism”, Russ. That is NOT in my comment above.)
    Over a period of many years, I have been thinking through to the point where I have concluded (for the time being, at least…) that every advantage has its disadvantage, and vice versa.
    That means… that I do NOT idolize OR idealize the “democratic” system.
    I think that many of our current ills are the LOGICAL RESULT OF the democratic system, OR SHOULD I SAY, the IDEOLOGY BEHIND a “democratic” system, since we do to a very great extent live in an oligarchy, as you like to point out, Russ…
    I am very glad to hear that you are interested in spiritual fulfillment, and glad to hear your admission that you have perhaps not devoted as many posts to it as you could have.
    I hear your reasons for doing what you are doing, too.
    I don’t know if I agree or not.
    For many years, I felt probably the same emotions as you : anger, frustration, spite at what I saw going on under my eyes.
    And I was moderately militant in my responses to channel these emotions.
    But now…
    I’m writing very different stuff.
    Because I told you before that I noticed that when I got everybody all riled up, well…
    you know, lots of people get other people all riled up. They are good at it.
    A long time ago we called them prophets (and guess what, now the word has come back into fashion. Inevitable. It is A GOOD WORD. A word that connects us to our past, and THAT IS GOOD at this time, I think.).
    But it is comparatively easy to get people riled up these days. Lots of rage and frustration just waiting to be tapped in many readers.
    I like to be challenged, though.
    I like… getting people to smile. To laugh. To play.
    To feel curiosity, and joy. To THINK, above all, and not necessarily agree with me, either.
    THOSE virtues, may I say, are MUCH RARER in our society these days than rage.
    Will rage bring about the revolution you think we should have ?
    Maybe. Maybe not.
    There hasn’t been a major war on U.S. soil since 1864, and the country IS STILL RECOVERING from that war. We, most of us, HAVE NO IDEA of what war means. WE have not experienced it, most of us.
    I don’t really want to see revolution. It will mean countless suffering, murder, trauma, and I think that that price is TOO HEAVY to pay.
    And.. I’m a mother. I have young adult children too.
    As I told somebody on a blog one day…
    please forgive me if I let MY IDEAS blot out in my head momentarily MY FRAGILE REALIZATION of our COMMON HUMANITY.
    Being right is not all it’s made out to be.
    You can check out what i’m writing if you like…

    Comment by Debra — August 29, 2010 @ 10:35 am

    • I was referring to this:

      I have deep suspicions about the expression “the people”.. JUST WHAT DOES IT BOUNCE OFF OF ?
      It aggregates a large number of very different individuals with different hopes, dreams, and conditions, lumping all these differences under ONE WORD.
      I fear that it is… a fascist word.
      Surprisingly enough… “democracy” and “fascism” bounce off each other really well. They even go hand in hand…

      It sounded like you were saying my argument is vague and could even be a sort of fascism itself. But if I misunderstood you, OK.

      “The people” as I use it means one of two things or both, depending upon the context. Usually both.

      It refers to all individuals insofar as they experience themselves as citizens and seek the basics of freedom and justice. An individual who is conscientious about these wouldn’t allow any of his many other individuated aspirations and desires become harmful to those public values. There’s more than enough room within them for the full human exercise of who we are.

      And then the people also refers to the non-rich and their socioeconomic interest. This includes the fact that siding with the rich criminals in the hopes of someday becoming one is an empirically vain quest (there’s been less and less upward socioeconomic mobility over recent decades) and that this is morally contrary to citizenship, freedom, and justice. Self-evidently one can’t serve freedom and justice but only assail them by seeking to become a slaver or slave overseer.

      Comment by Russ — August 29, 2010 @ 1:06 pm

      • I told Edwardo one day on HIS blog that I wasn’t keen on secular religion, I prefer the real McCoy.
        For reasons stated above, I like a challenge.
        As an intellectual, I find it extremely difficult to foster the kind of naiveness that Christianity demands of me.
        Very very difficult, and then our current society has almost destroyed the possibility of that kind of belief, and the joy it brings. But I’m working on it…
        The democratic ideal, “we the people”, and all that, is basically secularized religion, the Christian promotion of brotherhood and community… MINUS God, or Jesus.
        I’m not biting any more.
        It doesn’t turn me on the way that the real McCoy does. Or get me passionate any more. But that’s me, I suppose…
        When you think about it NO ONE on this earth was more interested and devoted to fostering freedom and thought than Jesus Christ. NO ONE…And i think he was an excellent judge, on occasion.
        The problem with secular religion is its legalism.
        Justice and the law…
        Nobody, no citizen, is ever good enough for the law…
        Justice is a harsh ideal, and the law is a very harsh taskmaster. And it does NOT create a free society. Not at all.
        Look at all those LAWS we have to make a free society, and tell me how legalism works.
        If it worked, we would have known it by now.
        Abstract words, words, words, too.
        Nothing really to sink one’s teeth into.
        PUBLIC values ?
        Those are VERY ABSTRACT too.
        I tend to say that I am limited by THE INDIVIDUAL FLESH AND BLOOD PERSON IN FRONT OF ME.
        If “the people” is not embodied, it is not alive, and not meaningful for us.

        Comment by Debra — August 29, 2010 @ 3:10 pm

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