Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Obama Sells Out Supporters. . . Again

Perhaps the most corrupt agency in the United States is the Department of Agriculture (“USDA”). From the decades spent pimping an upside down food pyramid for the meat industry, to its attempts to reclassify ketchup as a vegetable to save money on school lunches, to the decades-long fight against food labeling, to Team Bush trying to prevent you from knowing if your food was genetically altered or if your milk contains hormones, to the trillions of taxpayer dollars handed out as subsidies to huge agribusinesses, the whole agency has been a blight on America. Fortunately, Obama changed this disgrace. Oh wait, no. . . no, he didn’t.

Over the last 100 years of incompetence and whoring itself to agribusiness, the USDA has done many disgraceful things. One of the worst things it’s done has been to utterly disregard its obligation to inspect our food supply, an obligation assigned to it by statute in 1909. The consequences of that have been an ever increasing number of recalls, though these recalls rarely happen until after enough members of the public are poisoned that other agencies get involved. . . and even then USDA resists the recall for a few more days.

But never fear, because Obama is here and he’ll save us all, right? Obama’s different, right? In fact, the left assumed that Obama would finally clean up the corrupt mess that is USDA. They assumed the days of the USDA doing the bidding of huge agribusiness was over. They were wrong.

Team Obama has just introduced a new rule that will require new inspection procedures for meat (13 samples before processing, 13 sample after processing, for each batch). Sounds good right? Not so fast. These rules will cost producers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, and their value is dubious. More importantly, the cost is high enough that it will likely wipe out many small producers. One small producer estimates it will add $500,000 a year to their expenses, which they can’t afford.

But safe is safe right? Actually no. It turns out that the safety risks have been disproportionately linked to large-scale producers. The likely explanation for this is that customers of small producers pay closer attention to the producers, and because small producers have much more to lose from any failure, unlike large-scale producers who have little to fear. Notes Greg Higgins, the founding member of the sustainability-focused Chefs Collaborative:

“[The health scares] are all related to large-scale food production, whether it’s spinach from a massive grower in California or ground beef out of the Midwest, they’re all gigantic, they’re never these little plants.”
Dustin VandeHoer of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship also thinks that applying these regulations to small producers makes no sense. He also worries that this will put small plants out of business.

Over the past few years, small producers have made significant in-roads into the market for specialty foods, locally grown foods, and organic foods. This regulation could be all it takes to wipe those small producers out. If the small producers shut their doors, then the small farms from which they purchase will no longer have an outlet for their products. In effect, these regulations could leave nothing but big players in agriculture.

So why would Obama do this? The suspicion being voiced by many is that Team Obama is doing a favor for the large producers who give generously when it comes to political contributions. When regulations makes little sense except to shut down influence-less competitors, that’s usually the reason.

It is also probably no coincidence that the current Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, has been in the back pocket of the biotech industry for years. He actually earned an award from a biotech industry lobbying group for passing a law in Iowa in 2005 that prevented local communities from regulating where genetically engineered crops could be grown. His nomination was opposed by the Organic Consumers Association because “Vilsack has repeatedly demonstrated a preference for large industrial farms and genetically modified crops.”

So much for Obama changing things. In fact, it looks suspiciously like Obama’s as big a tool for agribusiness as every other President before him. Surprise, surprise.

Personally, I’d like to see the USDA gutted. This agency has been corrupt since its birth and has only gotten worse. They need to be returned to an inspection agency that conducts its own on-site inspections. They need to stop protecting producers at the expense of consumers and stop issuing regulations that do little more than throw up barriers to entry. The inspection of our food supply should not be a political game with the booty going to the highest bidder.


Writer X said...

I'm shocked. President Obama is pandering to special interests and big campaign donors?

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, I know, shocking isn't it? And here I thought Obama was "change". Wasn't he supposed to finally give the government back to the people. . . not Wall Street, not the unions, not his biggest contributors?

It must be Bush's fault somehow.

BevfromNYC said...

My head just stopped spinning from the shock...I had to lie down and put a cold cloth on my forehead. These shocks are beginning to take their toll.

Of course it's Bush's fault. He didn't do anything right ever. But when Obama does the same thing, he does everything exactly the way we want it done always.

The good news is that the "people" are taking their food into their own hands. The "100 miles" movement is really catching on and people are understanding that they just can't be so far away from their primary food sources anymore. If for no other reason than local security. So the big multinational agribusinesses hopefully will have less clout anyway.

Anyway, don't the Obamas grown their own veggies in the WH garden?

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, If the people who are talking about this (small producers, organic growers, environmentalists, and leftists) are correct, this could go a long way to shutting down small farms in this country.

Small farms rely on the small producers because the big producers will only deal with the massive commercial farms and feed lots. So if this ends up wiping out those producers, then it's likely that small farmers will go out of business because they will lose the infrastructure they needed to get their goods to the market.

That's what this is about. And that's why the left is so shocked that Obama has abandoned them on this.

Sadly, none of us are shocked.

StanH said...

That’s Barry’s m-o, if it’s government make it bigger. The USDA is no exception!

Joel Farnham said...

This is news to me. I always thought of USDA as being a positive thing. USDA approved beef was something that I grew up with.

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, In this case, it's the corollary, what the government can do for donors, it will do for donors.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, The USDA has a long, bad history of influence peddling, corruption, and just total mismanagement. It's an agency that has been dominated by the people it regulates almost since its birth, and they've used it to squeeze trillions of dollars out of taxpayers and to crush their competitors.

Unknown said...

Andrew: How right you are. The USDA has been an agency of misfeasance and malfeasance since its very inception. It was one of the earliest examples of how government interference in the market makes for bad economics and crony politics. It serves neither producers nor consumers, and exists solely to perpetuate its own existence. Its only legitimate function is inspection, and it's the one they've botched up constantly over the past few decades. It has gotten its nose into the economy from the price of milk in Wisconsin to the purity of the water cows drink in California. Begone, USDA !

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, It's the classic example of an agency doing things it shouldn't be doing at the expense of doing things it should be doing. They really need to completely change the way they do business.

Anonymous said...

If the whole of the USDA rules regarding contaminates in our foods were known, all right thinking would grow their own and hunt their own.
Items like the allowable rodent quantity of hair or feces in ground and prepared meats come to mind. How about the amount of puss allowed in milk? Doesn't that create a mind set?
I feel all of the government related controls and inspections should be reactive instead of proactive as they are.
Why are these less than palatable
items in the rules?
It is because when food is processed by the consumer care is taken. The same for the local or regional processor.
Not for the MEGA-PROCESSOR their operations are so large and require so much plant area that control of rodents cannot be absolute. If something becomes contaminated mix it with the good stuff,the percentage is small.
Puss in your milk doesn't occur in the regional dairy. but it does in the MEGA-DAIRY where the cow is milked even when injured or sick because the numbers on each cow must be kept regardless.
Maybe cannibalism is the answer
I hear the illegals taste like chicken when cooked right.
There we can solve that problem also.

AndrewPrice said...

anon, It's true. The problems really are with the big players and what they are allowed to get away with is stunning. If people knew, they would demand a total re-working of the system.

I hope that someday, someone finally starts taking these issues seriously. But the agency tends to be a total afterthought, interesting only to the people who use it to milk the rest of us and avoid doing things right.

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