By now, with the regularity of food recalls and epidemics of food-borne illness in the U.S., one might have good reason to agree with Der Spiegel’s reclassification of the U.S. as a third world banana republic. After all, everyone knows you shouldn’t eat unwashed fresh produce in Honduras and Guatemala.
Of course the difference between poor countries and the U.S. is that we actually have the infrastructure to deliver clean food and water. However, with the growing percentage of agricultural land being gobbled up by corporate factory farms that cram together tens of thousands of hogs, chickens or cattle along with speedups and lax oversight and cleanliness at processing plants, it is inevitable that illness provoking germs would increasingly find their way into our foods.
The problem has only been worsened by the gutting of federal oversight, which has reduced the number of available agents to inspect food producing and processing sites.
Giving Corporate Crooks A Free Pass
According to Democracy Now, federal officials have now acknowledged that they knew about the dangerous bacteria found in Cargill ground turkey products well before this month’s recall, one of the largest meat recalls in U.S. history. This is no trivial blunder, as one person has already died from Salmonella, and 76 others were sickened from turkey products traced to Cargill’s processing plant in Springdale, Arkansas.
A dangerous form of Salmonella was discovered by the USDA in Cargill turkey at least once last year and another four times this year. Despite the risk to the public, the USDA allowed Cargill to continue to sell potentially tainted meat until the recent outbreak occurred.
Our Product is Sowing Doubt
Big Tobacco was caught with their pants down when a memo was leaked suggesting they were in the business of sowing doubt about their product’s safety. Many industries, however, have been engaged in a similar game. For example, they hire their own scientists to do biased studies that appear to draw into question accepted scientific facts. Their lobbyists then use this data to gain watered down regulations and allow them to sell dangerous products.
It would appear that poultry producers have done the same. According to Democracy Now, the USDA claims that according to their own rules they do not consider Salmonella contamination as a health risk until the meat actually sickens or kills someone.