November 5, 2010

What’s For Dinner: Corporate Food Tyranny (1 of 2)


(Also posted at Food Freedom.)
Last April the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) filed a lawsuit against the FDA’s interstate raw milk ban. While the suit is unlikely to prevail given likely court deference to the imperial executive branch, it’s already done important work in eliciting a remarkable statement of the FDA’s ideology and general attitude toward the American people. Before I get to the FDA brief, let’s first recap the pending food bill. This bill has been the subject of great controversy, with many like me calling it a Food Tyranny bill, others dismissing this as overly alarmist. I will establish in this two-parter that there’s nothing exaggerated in the alarm we raise. I’ll cite the evidence of the government’s stated ideology and its record of action to date.
But first let’s look at what the food bill actually says. (There are actually many of these bills. So far the only one which passed was HR 2749 in 2009. This was the main House food “safety” bill. The Senate’s corresponding version is S 510, currently in limbo. Reid had said he’d seek cloture during the lame duck session, but it’s now questionable whether that will be possible, pending the outcomes of still-disputed races. At any rate, if S 510 passes it will go into conference with HR 2749. Henceforth I’ll refer to this pending conference as “the” food bill, although there are significant differences between the House and Senate versions. The Senate version was considerably improved in committee, thanks to public interest pressure. But in spite of the optimism of NSAC and others, I’m going to go by the established trend, exemplified by the health racket bailout and the sham finance “reform”, that the conference results in a bill far worse than the better version, and perhaps even worse than both prior versions, as in the case of the health “insurance” Stamp Act.) For much of this I’ll be drawing on this excellent analysis at Food Freedom, which includes citations of the bill’s sections and subsections for every point.
The bill claims to be about food safety, vs. both pathogens and terrorism. But the fact is that all threats to food safety are either caused or magnified by our dependence upon a radically centralized industrial food production and distribution system. Existing regulations, if rigorously enforced against big corporate producers, would have been sufficient to prevent recent outbreaks like the egg salmonella, the peanut butter salmonella, or the spinach E. coli.
But the proposed bill does nothing about either of these conditions. It not only does nothing to decentralize and decorporatize the system, but will do all it can to further entrench this system. It will do nothing to force “regulators” at the FDA or USDA to enforce the law against the real culprits. Instead it will increase their discretion at the same time it increases their power. Meanwhile, neither existing nor proposed regulations are sufficient to meet the clear and present danger posed by the very existence of factory farms, which are nothing but unregulated bioweapons labs which will one day be the vector of a lethal pandemic. The food bill studiously leaves them intact.
Instead, this bill imposes a one-size-fits-all standard on all producers and distributors of any size. This standard is intended to be a minor nuisance at most to the big corporations (and probably won’t even be that, given the government’s record of benign neglect of the big offenders), while imposing a tremendous, perhaps insurmountable, financial and logistical burden on small outfits.
So the bill will definitely do nothing to improve food safety. The bill is definitely crafted to further centralize the system, further shackle us to corporate agriculture, and make our food even less safe. That’s indisputable. I suppose the only “controversy” here is whether that’s the government’s intent or not, and therefore whether under this bill things would just get inertially worse, or whether on the contrary it will be aggressively used as a weapon of accelerated tyranny. I’ll argue it’s the latter, and provide evidence.
There’s plenty of evidence of malicious intent in the bill itself.
If we think back to 2008 we can remember how the original version of the TARP was even worse in principle than the one that ended up passing. It was a three page demand sheet which would have made the Treasury secretary a veritable economic dictator. Opposition focused especially on the provision declaring that the secretary’s fiat could not be subject to judicial review.
Today’s food bill proposes something similar but far worse, as it would give the secretary of Health and Human Services dictatorial, unreviewable power over our very food. The House bill explicitly delineates “Quarantine Authority for Foods”, which could be declared upon the flimsiest pretext. This quarantine could give the federal government total power over all foods within a state or states. The criterion for this would be if the secretary “believes there’s a reasonable probability” of a danger of food-borne illness. One of the measures of assessing this probability would be the distribution of “adulterated” or “misbranded” food. But these and other FDA criteria have historically been interpreted in vague, capricious, selective ways, generally against smaller producers. “Misbranding” itself is not an English language term for fraud, but a Humpty-Dumpty bureaucratic category and status offense. The FDA issues a definition, and then anything which doesn’t meet its specifications is by definition “misbranded”. For example, the FDA defines “milk” as pasteurized milk. Thus raw milk becomes unmilk. It is by definition misbranded and outlawed.
Whatever you think of raw milk, it’s easy to see where this process leads. The FDA has systematically encouraged and helped market antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, and GMOs: the very malefactors most responsible for food-born illness. So there’s no reason to doubt its potential will to bureaucratically define any food as being a GMO variety, or as having been sprayed with a kind of pesticide, and so on. (And the health racket Stamp mandate also provides the precedent of the government forcing us to buy private products. In tandem with corrupt court decisions on this mandate, the FDA would have a wide open field to mandate any and every kind of corporate input for all food production.)
So under the bill the government would achieve sweeping new powers to declare a kind of martial law over food, based upon a corporatized bureaucrat’s notion of a “reasonable probability” that any sort of threat to food safety exists. As we’ve just seen, this alleged “threat” needn’t be an actual safety threat, but perhaps only a threat to the FDA’s corporate-captured definitions of food itself. Meanwhile, either as part of this quarantine, or as part of any action short of it, the bill also gives the FDA vastly greater power to search and demand access to records without a warrant. I previously wrote about the illegal Rawesome raid and fraudulent Morningland “warrant”. But once this bill passes, actions like this will probably become technically legal, as the warrant requirements will be largely suspended. Armed food police will be able to kick in your kitchen door on the say-so of some bureaucratic thug.
The spirit of these vague standards will also be applied to an amorphous new set of allegedly “science-based” safety standards for produce. This ignores the fact that existing standards are sufficient if applied to the big producers. Here we see how the bill’s real intent isn’t to render existing production safe, but rather to impose a backdoor form of prior restraint on small producers. There’s no need for a whole new set of standards for growing, harvesting, processing, and distributing if we’re not going to go all the way and ban CAFOs. Short of that, all we need is to actually enforce what we have. So the very fact that they’re making such a show of how we need new regulations is strong evidence that the real target is small production and distribution as such. The bill will also impose onerous new record-keeping requirements which might be appropriate for the dangerous, hitherto unaccountable big producers, but are pointless and near-impossible for small producers to meet. 
The notion that “the food safety system is broken”, common among liberal and conservative commenters, is nothing but a corporate talking point. It’s true that the structure is broken and needs to be completely dismantled. But that’s not what they’re talking about. They want to leave the structure intact, but they claim the regulatory process is broken in principle. No, given the structure, the process is conceptually as good as it can be; it’s only that this existing process isn’t applied. So the only rational courses of action for someone who truly cares about food safety are to revolutionize the structure, or failing that to rigorously enforce the existing regulations. Anyone who claims to care about food safety, but who wants to leave the structure and the enforcement practice intact, and says we need “new rules”, is a liar. It’s textbook disaster capitalism – the big producers create the food safety problem, triggering several outbreaks. They and their creatures in government (and their useful idiots in the commentariat) then use that as the pretext for assaulting small producers.
So with these new “safety standards” we have a wild blue yonder of statist and corporatist possibilities. Who knows what restrictions, what mandates, are possible in theory?
The Senate version of the bill did make significant corporate progress over the House version in one way – it wants to integrate our food into the Department of Homeland Security’s “war on terror”. The DHS of course shouldn’t exist at all. It has never served any purpose other than pork and police statism. (It should be called the Dept. of PPS.)
Why aren’t the tea partiers outraged over how the food bill orders HHS and the DoA to coordinate with DHS, via a gaggle of secretive executive master plans, to conjure up a “National Agriculture and Food Defense Strategy”? This is Big Government at its most stupid and brutal. Anyone who hasn’t read about the Nazi party’s Four Year Plan and the wartime SS program to take over the entire economy had better study these examples of extreme corporatism, because we have the same phenomenon progressing today through the mechanisms of the DHS and its bogus “war on terror”.
As I said before, terrorism can be a threat only to a highly centralized food system. So anyone who was truly concerned about terrorism would call for decentralizing it. We see again how all security is always increased by heading in that direction, while the bogeyman of “terrorism” is always being fraudulently trumped up to justify further centralization. This again proves that this bill is a sham.
The DHS itself admits that there have only ever been a handful of cases of willful contamination of the food supply, and that these cases are negligible compared to the hundreds of thousands of corporate-caused food poisoning cases each year. Meanwhile, the FTCLDF compiled a telling selection of quotes from the Office of the Inspector General on how qualified DHS is to have anything to do with food:

Here are some of the findings from the 2007 OIG report, “The Department of Homeland Security’s Role in Food Defense and Critical Infrastructure Protection” [1], which focused on post-harvest food production:

DHS was assembled from twenty-two (22) preexisting agencies and organizations, none of which had a primary mission focus on post-harvest food products. [1–p. 15]

“The enormity of the food sector and the complexity of government oversight pose substantial challenges to food defense and critical infrastructure protection. These challenges are compounded by the fact that some of the department’s obligations to the food sector are set out in guidance documents that are not clearly compatible.” [1–p.17]

“Several organizational units in the department carry out DHS food-sector-related activities. The supervision of these activities is distributed across several managers in these units. This divided leadership arrangement has produced similar programming across different components and has not provided the level of internal coordination required.” [1–p.18]

“Because numerous public sector entities regulate the food industry, the insights to be gained through partnerships with food industry regulators come with a significant coordination requirement.” [1–p. 16]

Different frameworks created under different Homeland Security Presidential Directives put priorities into question. [1–p. 17]

DHS has four directorates, seven agencies, fifteen major offices and a center. “There is no major organizational entity within DHS that is focused exclusively or even largely on the execution of DHS responsibilities in the food sector.” [1–p. 19]

“The management of DHS’ food-sector-related activities is as dispersed as the activities themselves. At the time of our fieldwork, no single senior manager or official in DHS was dedicated to monitoring or overseeing all of the department’s food sector activities.” [1–p. 22]

“The limited leadership attention to food defense and critical infrastructure protections is so pronounced that several key DHS staff could not identify a senior DHS official responsible for Homeland Security Presidential Directive 9 implementation. One DHS employee advised us that a single DHS contractor was responsible for tracking and monitoring the department’s efforts to implement Homeland Security Presidential Directive 9 responsibilities.” [1–p. 29]

“FDA and National Counterterrorism Center staff were critical of food-related intelligence products developed by the Homeland Infrastructure Threat and Risk Analysis Center. They said that these products had not drawn on subject matter expertise as much as conjecture, and said that some included irresponsible speculation. They said that they often considered the center’s products to be at odds with the experts in other government organizations, and asserted that the center’s products had not been vetted to the extent necessary.” [1–p. 43]

“To improve overall U.S. food defense and critical infrastructure protection, DHS must execute its related responsibilities more effectively. Disjointed DHS work on defense of the food supply caused by the absence of a clear leader brought confusion in cases in which DHS made good faith efforts to work with partners.” [1–p. 90]

So again, if you really care about the alleged terrorist threat to our food, and want to make our food more safe, you wouldn’t try to get there from here. The DHS couldn’t protect against terrorism even if there were a threat.
All this proves the DHS is not concerned with food safety, but is using it as the pretext for power and budgetary accumulation and assertion. As with everything else DHS does, this bill is intended to set up more corporate boondoggles and aggrandize the police state.
I’ll have more to say about the way the bill would further subordinate America’s food supply to anti-sovereign globalization cadres like the WTO in an upcoming post specifically about globalization. (See here.) For now I’ll just stress that food safety means greater recourse to food grown as close to home as possible, with the greatest community accountability. But this bill would place our food under the supervision of WTO “free trade” mandates, and would increase the amount of imported food in our food supply. Imported food is far less accountable than even the barely overseen domestic industrial food system. More proof that this bill doesn’t really care about safety and will actually make our food less safe.
Finally, we have one smoking gun regarding the bill’s malign socioeconomic intent. The HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) concept is an alleged “food safety” program dating back to the Clinton administration. Its proclaimed purpose was to make the meat supply more safe.
Here’s what it did in practice:

John Munsell, a former owner of a meat processing plant and current manager for the Foundation for Accountability in Regulatory Enforcement, has developed a powerpoint presentation, entitled “HACCP: USDA’s Current Style of Meat Inspection” [5]. Munsell found that USDA’s implementation of HACCP deregulated the big slaughterhouses and processing plants and enabled big packers to “operate in the relative absence of USDA inspections. They author their own HACCP plans, they self-police, create their own standards in the absence of national standards, and maintain their own command and control.” Meat inspection consists of paperwork auditing, leaving consumers ”unnecessarily imperiled” as a result. In regards to the small plants, Munsell made the following findings:

There was “hyper-regulation” of small plants.

“Paper flow and daily HACCP records, most of which have no connection to safe food, are swamping small plants.”

“Small plants have been targeted for higher numbers of enforcement actions.”

“Small plants lack staffs to challenge USDA’s unethical demands. Easier prey.”

Unlike big plants, USDA dictates what must be in their HACCP plans.

Small plant disappeared. Between 2000 and 2005, there was a 21.9% reduction in processing plants and a 19% reduction in slaughter plants, this occurring while more livestock producers were desiring to enter “the niche livestock field (beef, hogs, lambs).”

While large plants had the resources to deal successfully with USDA attempted enforcement actions, the agency could bully small plants.

FDA does not have anywhere near the number of inspectors needed to carry out the inspections of food facilities mandated by HR 2749 and S 510. The agency would have all the incentive to address this shortage of inspectors by implementing USDA-style HACCP. With all the paperwork required by the two bills (especially the food safety plan in section 418A of HR 2749 [B–p. 33]), it would be easy for FDA to enforce the HACCP plan in such a way as to drive significant numbers of small food facilities out of business for reasons that have nothing to do with food safety.

So we have over ten years of experience proving that HACCP does not improve meat safety but only increases monopoly consolidation and serves as a weapon vs. small producers. Whether or not it was originally a mistake, its real effect quickly became clear. Since then maintaining it could only be out of intentional pro-corporate malice against small producers. For over ten years it has been an intentional government weapon of class war.
Now both versions of the bill want to extend this weapon against all produce. Given the proven record, this can only indicate the conscious tyrannical intent of the bills’ crafters.
To sum up. It’s already clear that the alleged goals of this bill – food safety and anti-terrorism – are both lies. We know that in both cases, relocalization is the road to the goal. And we know that existing regulations are not enforced against the real culprits in all significant food outbreaks, like Wright Eggs.
It’s also clear that, short of banning CAFOs and GMOs, no new food safety legislation is needed at all. Again, corporate concentration is the source of all significant outbreaks (and the only plausible terrorist target), and existing regulations aren’t enforced against these sources. This bill wouldn’t do anything about any of these. On the contrary it seeks to impose a one-size-fits-all regime which will naturally have little effect on the big producers, the real culprits, but fall hard on the innocuous small producers. It will also increase imported food, as we see from the globalization provisions. So in every way this bill not only doesn’t touch the real problems, but is crafted to make them worse, while seeking to destroy the healthy alternative.
So we know the bills aren’t really intended to do what they claim to do. So what is the intent? The most plausible explanation is that the intent is to further empower corporate profiteering, impose tyranny over the food supply, and like everything else involved in the sham “war on terror”, to set up new corporate boondoggles and help spread the police state in general.
Is this being “hysterical”, as the corporate shills and hacks claim? To further answer that, in part two I’ll return to the FDA’s brief in the Farm-to-Consumer lawsuit.


  1. Excellent detailed analysis ~ can I repost this at Food Freedom?

    Comment by Rady — November 5, 2010 @ 9:36 am

    • Sure. I’m glad you like it.

      Comment by Russ — November 5, 2010 @ 9:48 am

  2. […] Russ addresses the threat posed by the current “Food Safety” bill S-510 in a new post on his “Volatility” blog titled “What’s for Dinner: Corporate Food Tyranny (1 of 2)” […]

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  9. […] course, it was just a year ago, in promulgating its totalitarian brief in the FTCLDF lawsuit, that the FDA claimed it had no aggressive enforcement plans against dairies and raw milk co-ops. That was proven to be a lie within weeks.]   The result is that a few states have regular legal […]

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  10. […] it was just a year ago, in promulgating its totalitarian brief in the FTCLDF lawsuit, that the FDA claimed it had no aggressive enforcement plans against dairies and raw milk co-ops. That was proven to be a lie within weeks.] The result is that a few states have regular legal […]

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