The Corporation Inside Your Refrigerator
The Effect of Lobbyists on Food Safety
As we went through our food culture unit, there were certain things about the food in America that caught our attention, such as the increasing number of food-related disease outbreaks, the inhumanity shown to the animals meant for slaughter, and the disproportional prices of junk food compared to healthy foods. For our project, we considered each of these topics, but we decided to delve a little deeper and look for the crux of the matter – there had to be something connecting these problems. Why wasn’t the government responding? Why weren’t the food inspection agencies such as the FDA and USDA doing something to stop, or at least, slow the increasing frequency of deaths and sicknesses blamed on rancid food? We realized that the answer was in the question – it was because of these companies that the food we eat is so dangerous, unhealthy, and even deadly. The agencies responsible for keeping our food safe is held in the grasps of former high-ranking employees and CEO’s of the very food corporations they should be inspecting. For our report, we decided to investigate the effect of lobbyists on the food safety laws put in place to keep our food safe – or lack of them.
It was once the tobacco companies. Prior to that, it was the meatpacking industries, and before that, the steel barons. The list of corporate control of the government goes on, and with the turn of the century, a new power arose: the food corporations. Unlike other corporations that control or controlled the government, the food corporations had a strong but subtle hand, because they found their control in the people and a necessity of their lives – food. Imagine the breadth of their influence. The food companies play large roles in the economy, foreign relations, and health – they have the power to influence the future of America and its citizens, for better or worse. In recent times, obesity has become an ever-growing problem, and food-related diseases and deaths are becoming more and more frequent. The amount of meat recalls per year have been steadily increasing over the past few years. (see chart)
In 2009, over one thousand pounds of meat were recalled in the United States, the largest amount in recorded history. (Food, Inc.). During that year, nearly 70 people were infected with E. coli in a total of 27 states. With the influx of advancing technology that appears in the lives of consumers, it’s only reasonable to expect that such problems should be decreasing, not the opposite. But evidently, reason plays no part in this struggle against the looming threat of food safety.
In 2010, the former Monsanto lobbyist Michael Taylor was announced to lead the FDA in the fight against contaminated food. However, this is far from his first role in the government. Though it’s unquestionable that Taylor is certainly qualified to lead this battle in food safety and regulation, there’s much skepticism regarding how real or substantial the actual changes will be. According to Melanie Warner on the CBS Interactive Business Network, “While Taylor was the FDA’s policy chief in the early 1990s, the agency approved genetically modified crops and bovine growth hormone for cows, new technologies that both benefited Monsanto enormously.” As a lobbyist, Taylor also argued against the Delaney Clause, “one of the foundations of food safety regulation that prohibits cancer-causing chemicals to be added to food” (bnet.com), and as a member of the USDA, he fought for the HACCP program, which essentially enables a company or industry to regulate itself. Worse, this is far from the only case of lobbyists in control of government agencies responsible for inspecting the companies they once worked for. Stories of lobbyists in high government positions and the bribing of government officials – such as the case in 1997 when the meat giant Tyson pleaded guilty for bribing the Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Espy, (USDA/Tyson corruption, vegatablekillers.net) – are ever increasing.
In his book Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser states, “Nevertheless, it is a sad but undeniable fact that for the past two decades the right wing of the Republican Party has worked closely with the fast food industry and meatpacking industry to oppose food safety laws, worker safety laws, and increases in the minimum wage” (277). The people of America – the consumers at the tail end of corporate control – aren’t blind to the bordering-on-ridiculous food laws being passed, while practical pieces of legislation such as Kevin’s law, which gives the U.S. Department of Agriculture the authority to close down plants that produce contaminated meat, are denied (Food, Inc.). Consumers should have, at the very least, the assurance that the food they eat is, well, edible. Corporate control in America has come to the point that mothers live in fear that the hamburgers bought in fast food restaurants may kill their children and people monitor what they say about corporate food giants for fear of being sued (foodbornillnesses.org, thirdworldtraveler.com). These corporate giants are not only ignoring their responsibility of providing America with safe, healthy food, but also taking away some of the most basic human rights while the government stands aside and watches, because those who have the authority to change it stand under the umbrella of the control of the corporate giants.
Despite the outrageous actions of the food corporations and the blind eye of the government agencies supposedly responsible for keeping them in line, it seems that the general reaction to the control of these corporate giants is not outrage, but resignation. In the view of most Americans, there is simply nothing they can do to fight the weight of these huge corporations. What most people don’t realize is that it is because of them that these corporations have such power. In the end, corporate control of the government boils down to economic worth, and even the largest, most influential, and most menacing of these corporations get their money from the pockets of the consumers. Everywhere in the history of America is the evidence of the rise and fall of powerful corporations, which seem so portentously influential in their time, but fade to shadows of what they were as the opinion of the public turns against them, and the food corporations are no different from the rest.
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