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The Consequences of a Globalized, Industrialized Food Supply

The United States has seen the chickens coming home to roost regarding the consequences of a globalized and industrialized food supply. The issue arose in relationship to animal feed. It started with a recall of dog and cat food because it contained a toxic mix of additives (melamine and cyanuric acid) which resulted in the illness and death of thousands of family pets across the country.

It then spread to contamination of hog and chicken food as (apparently) both the recalled pet food, and the same adulterants in other feed, was shipped across the country. Then it spread to feed for farmed and nursery fish.
Along the way, we have discovered several alarming facts:

  1. that the FDA only inspects 1% of the food and food ingredients that enter the United States;
  2. that there is no way of tracking imported food ingredients;
  3. that there is no centralized reporting system for illness and disease in "pets."

We have also "discovered" a problem with toxic medicine is also making its way from China to the U.S.

It seems like once one starts pulling on a loose thread that the entire garment starts to unravel.

When it comes to the food supply, we have already seen the beginning of the breakdown. Industrializing and corporatizing does not work well with food. What is efficient and profitable may introduce long term risks leading to collapse. We have seen this with "mad cow" disease which is linked to the industrial feeding practices where cattle (herbivores) being fed like pigs (omnivores). While regulations have been put in place, "downed" cattle are still regularly slaughtered, and very few are tested.

We have seen it with the mass centralization of food processing and distribution which has brought repeated nation-wide e-coli and salmonella outbreaks. We saw it with the StarLink corn fiasco. We are likely to see massive crop failures from our cloned crop approach to food production. We have had multiple warnings, but have continued as if these issues are "flukes."

The most recent issue that resulted in the massive recall of pet food has uncovered both the problems of industrialized food supply, and a globalized one. Terry Allen, had a nice detailing of the industrialization issues in his article "Poisoning Pets with Industrial Food." He discusses the issue of pet food as the last repository of food stuffs that have failed human consumption; the inclusion of deceased pets within the "mix;" the lack of controls; and the concentration of production into a handful of facilities. However, what became clear as the toxic food spread from dog and cat food, to pigs and then chickens, was that pet food was not the final destination of the toxic garbage of an industrialized food system - livestock was. Yes, recalled and outdated pet food is directly channeled into the livestock food supply.

Some might say "So what? They don't live long enough to get hurt." Perhaps and perhaps not. If the adulterated, "efficient," "cost effective," "food" we give these creatures then poisons humans (and other animals for which these may become "food") then whether they suffer or not is a separate - though not unimportant- issue. (I know that the majority of these creatures are already suffering from the conditions of industrialized agriculture, but that is another issue for another day.) What this points to is the circle of life, and ultimately that circle has been concentrated to an obscene level in the United States.

The other issue that has come glaringly to light is the problem of a globalized food supply. The controls on global agriculture are (deliberately) woefully lacking. There are innumerable issues with globalization, and globalized agriculture, but I am not going to take in that wide sweep. An excellent discussion of the global agricultural issue is the International Forum on Globalization's 2007 sixty-eight page (pdf) report "The Rise and Predictable Fall of Globalized Industrial Agriculture." At the heart of the failure seen in the pet food recall is the World Trade Organization and the international agreements that it governs and enforces. [Namely, GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), The AoA (Agreement on Agriculture), Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards (SPS), and to some extent the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards (SPS).]

As it came to light that the FDA seemed woefully under staffed to address the massive amount of food and food ingredients imported into the country, one had to ask "Why?" Was this just another case of gutting the government protections by corporate interests? Was this another example of corporate cronyism within a critical government agency? In part, the answer to these questions is "yes." But the bigger issue is the impacts of the agreements that form the infrastructure of globalization.

Under these agreements, the global food supply is under the control of industry-set standards which makes up the Codex. These standards are low to say the least. However, also at issue are "equal treatment" clauses in various agreements which state that international products (and companies) must be treated as equal to national products. Therefore, imported food stuffs - whether grain products from China or sheep with chemical contamination from New Zealand - cannot be inspected for contamination that would not be monitored in the U.S.

I know this sounds crazy, but (as I understand it) melamine is banned from food production in the US, and so it is not generally monitored by inspectors. Therefore, grains from China (or anywhere else) would not be checked. Further, imported products are subject to the SPS agreement and standards set by industry - not by nations. Therefore national food safety standards are trumped by international standards set by industry and enforced through the World Trade Organization.

As the cries of "food security" are now raised, it is years too late to address the issue. Just as it was years too late to address "national security" issues related to ownership of the ports of the United States - ports whose ownership had long since passed from US to corporate and international hands - facilitated by the same agreements run through the WTO.

At the heart of the issue in the United States is the worms that were seeded into the agreements and the WTO. Worms that politicians knew they were there. However, the public was not informed, and as issues arose they would never effect the U.S. In other words, it is yet another example of greed combined with U.S. exceptionalism. The global issues, from the exploitation of global resources and people, to the overthrow of governments, to the "free trade" agreements has been one drum beat - U.S. interests. Over the decades those interests have been increasingly a hegemonic capitalism, in corporatized control. Meanwhile, the people of the United States have been drugged into complacency, and sometimes mobilized to actively support those interests (i.e. the "war on terrorism").

The problems are the problems of "other" nations, just as the issues associated with the failures of people in poverty in the 1960s, have crept up the economic ladder as the draining of the national reserve and will nears empty. Well, "we" are not immune to the agreements we have let be signed in our name - nor the processes that continue to steam roll towards destruction.

Other Documents of Interest
World Trade Organization - UNDERSTANDING THE WTO: THE AGREEMENTS - Agriculture

World Trade Organization - Multilateral Agreements on Trade in Goods

World Trade Organization - Links to Legal Texts of WTO agreements

World Trade Organization - Final Uruguay Round Agreements - the Agriculture part is mid-way down the "page"

Gerald Greenfield, The WTO, World Food System, and the Politics of Harmonised Destruction

Posted by Rowan Wolf at May 14, 2007 12:21 AM
Comment #220263

Rowan Wolf - Thank you for this great article an
the amount of time spent on this very large project.
I guess we must believe just a few of our politicians were honest, but how can any of these
Snakes be trusted to do the right things for all
the people.

Posted by: DAVID at May 14, 2007 12:51 AM
Comment #220271

Rowan, Thanks, excellent work. When the corporations own the politicians this is what we can expect. The corporations that are patenting the seeds and processes used in agriculture, and others like them, are the results of the predatory capitalism that will eventually ruin democracy. They have a good start at it and with the nations of the world submitting to the WTO its just a matter of time.

Posted by: j2t2 at May 14, 2007 8:49 AM
Comment #220283

Wow, excellent article with great links — five stars! Perhaps needless to say, I agree with every bit of it.

Posted by: Adrienne at May 14, 2007 1:20 PM
Comment #220290

Thanks for the positive response.

This is a critical issue which is interlinked to a number of structured weaknesses in our economic and governmental systems.

Posted by: rowan at May 14, 2007 2:44 PM
Comment #220306

The American people believe ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ Most politicians and political parties believe ‘Don’t worry about the pound of cure, that will come on some other politician’s watch.’

Until voters en masse kick out incumbents who oversee such inaction, and keep kicking them out until their replacements get the picture, our nation will be governed by the politicians and their maxim above will be the rule of their time in office.

Can folks not see this is happening as we speak as billions are being poured into new Coal Fired energy plants, and 100’s of millions are being poured into lobbying and advertising for Nuclear Energy as the panacea to cure all ills, and the Democratic Congress’ collusion with Bush to pass a free trade agreement with countries to our South without the protections for workers and American companies in just the last week or two?

And can Democrats not see the folly of failing to secure our borders in the wake of Growing Islamic Fundamentalism?

Can Republicans not see the folly of passing a 3 trillion dollar national debt increase on to future generations who will be far more cash strapped than the current one as entitlement obligations create enormous personal financial hardships with, or without the entitlement spending?

Posted by: David R. Remer at May 14, 2007 4:51 PM
Comment #220466

From what I can see the actual debt value is not an issue. It’s what the people holding the debt will do when our currency devalues so much that their holdings are no longer worth anything.

There are liens on public land. Thousands of them. From what I have heard the World heritage foundation (supported by the UN) has tons of liens on US and other countries public land.

The concept is simple. Keep breaking the countries… putting them in debt… and as they slowly bankrupt pull in your liens and make it a 1 world government. It’s just the start of the plan.. but it’s been in the works for a while.

Posted by: jrjr at May 15, 2007 8:38 PM
Comment #220467

The reason I brought the above up, is because anyone can put liens on private property without having to be a citizen even. But it’s pretty hard to get to public land for foreign institutions.

Posted by: jrjr at May 15, 2007 8:44 PM
Comment #220889

So you have made the case that we are not safe from anyones food, even our own. And that’s true. At any moment, no matter how many BILLIONS you have the government spend to protect you….that protection could break down and you could die of food poisoning. That will always be true, no matter how much money the government spends.

What is your solution? Have you planted your garden yet and stopped eating anything you don’t grow?

Oh wait, I get it. You need more taxes, you need a bigger government. Wow, shocking. First you tell democrats tell us that Republicans spend too much gosh darn money, that Republicans are destroying our children’s future with their big government…then, after winning the elections…. you tell us that our taxes must go up up up and we need to spend more more more.

This is exactly what I told you folks you would do if you took back congress, spend more and raise more taxes. Which of course, hurts many people as the economy grinds down under the tax burden.

I’ll tell you what I did about the problem. Instead of whining about needing bigger government….I stopped purchasing product from anyone who had product recalls due to the contamination. If their treats were recalled, I stopped buying the food too. If their wet product was contaminated, I stopped buying their dry product as well.

Several companies I was purchasing product from…lost all my dollars. My dog now eats expensive, high grade, all natural, food from a company that purchased none of the contaminated product. And some of the companies I dropped have added additional testing on the front end of their product cycle to see this doesn’t happen to them again. Why? Because they lost so much business and they want to stay in business and earn back my trust.

And China, which initially indicated they did not have a problem, now realizes denial=loss of income for all food sails and they are admitting there was a problem and it’s being fixed.

In other words, China realized that denial could cost their nation billions whereas a proper response could fix the problem and save customers. They really aren’t a world class provider of food stuffs yet…but are massively exporting food. So they have a lot of catching up to do in the area of quality control.

Big government isn’t always the answer. Some government is needed, and no doubt we have areas we can always improve in….but in the end, supply and demand have a way of forcing fixes. By the time you add thousands of food inspectors and massively raise taxes for a new army of safe food government super secret agents…the free market system has fixed the problem.

You stop eating lettuce…..they stop contaminating it because they don’t want to go out of business. Now, all you crop pickers, please wash your hands after you use the porta-potty! First you insist we let them in illegally, then you tell us we need to massively expand our government to protect us from their dirty hands.

Posted by: StephenL at May 20, 2007 2:04 AM
Comment #220893

Feel better after that rant?

I am not sure where you got needing bigger government out of what I wrote. I’d be happy if the one we have did what it is supposed to do.

Posted by: rowan at May 20, 2007 2:39 AM
Comment #220894

You rant with links, I prefer not to use links in my rant.

Posted by: StephenL at May 20, 2007 2:44 AM
Comment #220895

You know, that wasn’t a half bad reply I made….I think I’m channeling Anne Coulter tonight. So it was sort of an Ann type of response I think. Lots of nuggets of truth wrapped up in some inflammatory language.

I’m not overly impressed by posts that bury themselves in links. It’s a form of ranting as far as I’m concerned.

I think your case is weak, that globalism or poor trade agreements are the reason the US got the tainted ingredients for dog food. In fact, I don’t think you made your case at all. I think you took a situation and tried to make it fit your preconceptions that our present trade agreements are “terrible”.

I also think you defeated yourself by mentioning that we contaminate our own food. Clearly that DOESN’T happen because of bad trade agreements, it just happens. And of course, your answer is that the already over stretched inspectors need to do more…reading BETWEEN THE LINES in the end that we need to higher more inspectors, enlarge the department, make bigger government, raise taxes to cover it. No you didn’t say you wanted bigger government, you just want government to do more than they do now. Well… that math.

What is the democratic congress doing? Is it passing Kyoto? Nope. Is it fixing social security? nope. Is it shrinking government because they told us the republicans spent to much? No, they are planning for a large EXPANSION of government and depending on a massive tax increase to cover it. Are they securing our boarders? Nope. But they need a bigger government anyway. Tax and spend baby…and globalism is EVIL. Look around your house, half the stuff you own came from China.

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Comment #375178

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