Swallowing whoppers

Jan 7, 2004 at 12:00 am

Sometimes News Hits just has to sit here staring slack-jawed at the wondrous synergy that is our corpocratic form of government. One nation under the almighty dollar sign, conceived in capitalism, of the corporation, by the corporation and for the corporation.

What has us marveling at the moment are the trailing innards of last month’s news about a mad cow’s meat making its way into supermarkets out West. “Not to fear,” our government assured. The person doing much of that assuring was Alisa Harrison, spokeswoman for U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman. It took Eric Schlosser, author of the exposé Fast Food Nation, to point out in a New York Times op-ed piece that before going to work for the Bush administration Harrison was director of public relations for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. She’s in good company. Veneman’s chief of staff, Dale Moore, previously served as chief lobbyist for the cattlemen’s association. As Schlosser writes: “Ms. Harrison may well be a decent and sincere person who feels she has the public’s best interest at heart. Nonetheless, her effortless transition from the cattlemen’s lobby to the Agriculture Department is a fine symbol of all that’s wrong with America’s food safety system. Right now you’d have a hard time finding a federal agency more completely dominated by the industry it was created to regulate.”

In that regard, you won’t hear much argument from John Stauber, co-author of the book Mad Cow USA. In a recent opinion piece found online at AlterNet.org, Stauber notes: “The United States has spent millions of dollars on PR convincing Americans that mad cow could never happen here, and now the USDA is engaged in a crisis management plan that has federal and state officials, livestock industry flacks, scientists and other trusted experts assuring the public that this is no big deal.” Stauber, executive director of the nonprofit group Center for Media and Democracy, is an expert on the ways of the public relations industry. The PR “ploy” was to make Americans think that this is a Canadian problem, since the infected cow supposedly originated in Canada. Even if that’s true, there is much for people in this country to fret over.

First off, there’s the “porous” border created by the North American Free Trade Agreement. “I suspect the recent cases of mad cow disease in the U.S. and Canada are just the tip of an iceberg …” says Stauber. People exposed to bovine spongiform encephalopathy are at risk of developing Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a fatal form of dementia.

Britain discovered 15 years ago how terribly costly inaction can be. The solution, though expensive, is simple: institute widespread testing. In 2002, according to Time magazine, the United States tested about 20,000 cows for the disease, or a whopping .06 percent of the 35 million cattle slaughtered in this country. Compare that to the European Union, which tested about 70 percent of cattle slaughtered, or Japan, which tested every cow butchered.

It could be Stauber and his ilk have ulterior motives. A national board member of the Organic Consumers Association, he is among the “reckless activists” using this mad cow discovery “as a hook to create panic over America’s food supply.” That attack comes from the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit group supported by restaurants and food companies. According to a CCF spokesman, these radicals are “clearly hoping to drive U.S. shoppers away from the grocery meat counter and toward more expensive organic and so-called ‘natural options.’”

In fact, Stauber has finally shown his true mercenary colors. Since his Mad Cow USA book won’t be available in paperback until later on this year, he and co-author Sheldon Rampton are making it available for free on the Internet. It can be downloaded by going to www.prwatch.org.

Or, you can believe the corpocrats running this country, and accept their assurances that there is absolutely no danger to our food supply as you swallow yet another Double Whopper.

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