An open letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack: Will we eat from our own backyards or beg food from big agribusiness?

An open letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack: Will we eat from our own backyards or beg food from big agribusiness?

By Mike Callicrate 

Pulitzer Prize winning author Charles Simic once wrote, “Stupidity is the secret spice historians have difficulty identifying in this soup we keep slurping.” 

As our precious few independent livestock producers and small processors continue their losing fight for survival, the USDA dreams up even more ways to make their lives more difficult. These are the people producing the safest, highest quality and most dependable food for our tables. As we sit here today at this listening session in Greeley, Colorado, considering the depressing possibility and cost of tracing back every healthy animal to its home of origin so Tyson, Cargill and JBS can export more, the farmer and rancher with the heaviest workload and the least income will pay – and down the road – consumers will also pay.  

Today, USDA, in protecting the biggest and dirtiest meat plants, continues to block trace-back of pathogens to the source plant, a very easy and inexpensive measure that could improve food safety tomorrow – and you say instead you want to track healthy animals back to the farm! Where USDA’s farm-to-kill plant NAIS ends, contamination and food degradation begins. What do you call an agency that actively undermines a nation’s ability to feed itself? What term defines an agency that sells out its mission to serve and protect the people in favor of serving higher profits of multinational agribusiness corporations? Stupid would be a kind choice of words. 

Thinking about NAIS and possible ways to improve food safety and disease traceability, we might reflect back to 2002 when we experienced one of the biggest meat recalls in our history. From here we can almost see the Greeleypacking plant, from which the nearly 20 million pounds of E. coli tainted beef was shipped across the to unsuspecting eaters. Having experienced this and many other catastrophic failures in our nation’s food safety system, USDA actually continues to do even less to protect our food supply. USDA has done nothing to address the problems in the big packing plants where E. coli is systematically put into our meat daily while trusting these big profit-driven companies to self inspect under the HACCP hoax. You may ask why meat cooking companies like Advance Foods, a major supplier to the school lunch program, are doing so well and expanding their facilities? Might it be due to the growing supply of cheap E. coli tainted meat, marked “FOR COOKING ONLY”? 

Thanks to USDA antitrust cops and inspectors sleeping on the job, Americans now eat meat from essentially four big meat packers, running faster chains with inexperienced workers suffering high injury rates, resulting in even more meat contamination. USDA has ignored the existing laws and rules designed to protect our markets and keep our food safe, in favor of rules and policies that make big packers and processors more money and more market advantage over smaller independent processors. Why does USDA want to track every healthy animal and ignore the current foreign animal disease threats? Why does USDA fail to properly implement our own county of origin labeling law while refusing to inspect or even care about the origin of imported cattle? Even with the specter of Mad Cow disease, USDA continues to block routine testing and allows processors to grind the brain and spinal tissue of domestic and imported animals into our sausage and ground beef patties. (AMR, or Advanced Meat Recovery, optimizes meat yield through a special process of pulverizing meat and bone scraps into a paste which is pelleted and added to many meat products.)

Why would USDA pursue this expensive and unnecessary ID system, under the pretense of improving food safety, when machine tenderizers and injectors (making tough meat from implanted and low quality cattle more tender) are punching pathogens that reside on the surface of primal cuts of meat (normally killed with minimal cooking) into the middle of our rare and medium rare steaks without so much as a “COOK TO WELL DONE” warning label?  

Could USDA possibly have the dreaded and highly contagious disease known as covering-your-butt-with-heaps-of-paperwork? You want to spread this “I-covered-my-butt-so-it’s-not-my-fault” plague down the food chain from your comfortable perch in Washington your inspectors, who shuffle paper all day, instead of inspecting cattle and meat, to those of us who are breaking our backs raising the livestock. We don’t have time for it. In many cases we are working two off-farm jobs while trying to keep our operations afloat. Non-factory, independent family farmers and ranchers produce safe and wholesome food. Why don’t you make sure it stays that way? 

You say that NAIS will increase our ability to export. Why does our government continue its march of folly towards increased globalization, appeasing the WTO and their multinational corporations, while blocking farmers and ranchers fair access to better markets here at home? Past and present history, from Ireland to Canada has recorded the dramatic social declines and economic failures of export oriented agriculture.  

I suggest to you today that rather than facilitating the profit over people WTO mission of increasing the miles that food travels around the globe with NAIS, that we support a new policy that enables people everywhere, through local food production and processing infrastructures, to eat food from their own backyards, communities and regions. It is time to give up on the folly of corporate controlled, bigger-is-better factory agriculture. It is time to reverse the current pandemic of “free trade” that survives only due to government support and the anticompetitive, abusive rules and regulations like NAIS.  

I suggest that people everywhere would not only be better off without NAIS, but also without the WTO and the global corporations it serves. I suggest that this administration honor its promise of CHANGE and begin by ordering USDA to support those who make and grow things here at home. We should support our main streets and rural communities where our nation’s wealth is created, instead of Wall Street where our nation’s wealth is stolen. Instead of wasting precious resources and our time to identify and track every healthy animal in America,let’s protect against the real sources of disease and causes of economic and social decline. 

Corporate power over policy and the so-called cheap factory foods are the real threat to our well-being, making people everywhere sicker, poorer and more dependent on low quality imported food? What do you call something that is so contrary to our self interest like NAIS?  

Mike Callicrate is an independent cattle producer, business entrepreneur and political activist, particularly outspoken in addressing the rural and social impacts of current economic trends.

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2 Responses to An open letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack: Will we eat from our own backyards or beg food from big agribusiness?

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