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Public Citizen & R-CALF on Parade PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Dittmer   
Tuesday, 31 July 2007
AFF Sentinel Vol.4#26

Amidst the mCOOL and Farm Bill debate last week, anti-mainstream agriculture, anti-trade activist group Public Citizen (PC) held news conferences casting doubt on the safety of the American food supply because it includes imported food.

Public Citizen has a major anti-trade focus, financed by liberal "social justice" foundations and labor unions that oppose trade. The group is an avowed enemy of mainstream agricultural operations they call "factory farms" (more than 100 head). PC has been a part of the LAG* efforts to scare Congress into implementing mCOOL by deliberately confusing the country of origin issue with food safety and inspection. PC has long attacked USDA meat inspection as inadequate and risking American health.

Lori Wallach, director of PC's Global Trade Watch (GTW), shared the spotlight at the Washington news conference with R-CALF's Bill Bullard -- lest anyone forget whose side R-CALF is on. Other R-CALF members participated in each of Public Citizen's news conferences in other cities.

Ironically, the latest scare tactics have centered around seafood, which has had mCOOL for many months. The irony escapes proponents: mCOOL has not protected anyone from seafood food safety problems but food inspection has resulted in shipments being refused. Proponents claim mCOOL is a food safety tool but it's not. Inspection results have prompted the government to refuse further shipments of certain seafood from China until standards are met.

PC's Global Trade Watch released a report, "Trade Deficit in Food Safety," claiming that trade agreements put "increasing the volume of traded food over safety," Wallach said. GTW, in turn, is part of the "Citizens Trade Campaign," an anti-trade effort that counts as members seven major labor unions, the Defenders of Wildlife, National Farmers Union, the Western Organization of Resource Councils and the Americans for Democratic Action.

Even the report's highlights are misleading. It boldly proclaims that only 11 percent of beef, pork and chicken has been inspected at the border by USDA. If fails to mention, for instance, that beef animals are slaughtered under equivalent USDA inspection standards to be eligible for export and shipments sealed, so the lack of border inspection does not mean no inspection.

The report claims a tidal wave of food imports engulfing the U.S. under NAFTA, totaling $65 billion annually. It fails to mention that this is just six percent of the total $1.085 trillion spent for food by Americans (USDA-ERS, 2006).

And while predicting an avalanche of trade court lawsuits regarding "lowering food safety standards" under new Free Trade Agreements, it cites only one example of a trade challenge in the 13 years of NAFTA.

It is fascinating that groups like PC , with anti- Factory Farming campaigns and both PC and R-CALF with mCOOL and competition prescriptions, "know" just how to "reform" American agriculture -- destroy the free market system and its efficient production engine. Yet we export food all over the world.

They hold up as reason for reform the fact that the U.S. now imports 80 percent of our seafood. American population growth and our capitalist system's disposable income may have far outstripped our coastal waters' ability to supply seafood. But our land-based, free market agricultural system, constantly attacked as broken and needing overhaul by the LAG*, continuously produces more than we can eat - safely and at the world's lowest percentage of income.

Always absent in these strident wails about imports is the acknowledgment that these goods are imported because Americans wanted to buy them. The implication is that sinister foreign powers or giant American corporations are forcing these foods down Americans' gullets against their will.

"...we will be systematically replacing domestic production with larger volumes of imported product," R-CALF's Bullard said in Public Citizen's news release. Yet the only other major source of grain-fed beef - Canada - has never overrun our market and the imported lean beef was imported to make ground beef consumers wanted.

Why do we import food? Because bananas don't grow well in the Dakotas and Americans want fresh produce of every description 365 days a year and Americans eat more ground beef than we have old cows to supply. Americans have the taste and the income to consume both domestic and foreign food and wine.

Some folks just don't want Americans to have all those choices - or U.S. cattlemen to be able to export to all those countries.

*R-CALF, Carol Tucker Foreman's Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Nader's Public Citizen, Organization for Competitive Markets, National Farmer's Union, etc.

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 10 October 2007 )
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