Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness From a Public Interest Perspective
The few sustaining the many!
That has been pretty much the story in the some 21 months since THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER first began appearing on computer screens. During the course of its existence, a small, but financially loyal group of folks have provided me with most welcome support, but their number is small compared to the near 1000 folks who today receive THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER.
In conceiving THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER, this editor wanted to make it as inexpensive to readers as he possibly could; hence, no subscription price, just personally affordable contributions. Thus, donations will, as always, be gladly accepted. Checks made out to A.V. Krebs, P.O. Box 2201, Everett, Washington 98203-0201 (NOT to the "Agribusiness Examiner") will continue to be received with much gratitude. To those loyal folks who have sent me financial support in the past my sincere thanks for your continued support.
PACKINGHOUSE WORKERS CHARGE IBP
WITH "PROCESSING" LIVE CATTLE
"Once the attorney general learns about the terrible things that happen in the name of profit inside of IBP, we know she will take action."
With these words Melquiadez Spereyra and sixteen of his fellow employees at IBP's Wallula plant in Washington State recently turned over signed affidavits and a secretly taped video to Christine Gregoire, the state's attorney general. Along with the affidavits and video tape came a call for an immediate investigation and prosecution of IBP Inc. for what the workers allege are "ongoing, systematic violations of state anti-cruelty and humane-slaughter laws," and for alleged violations of "basic public-health and worker-safety requirements."
Specifically the workers and the Humane Farming Association charge that the processing line at the nation's largest meat packer plant in Wallula moves so fast that cows are being skinned alive, their eyes still blinking and their limbs flailing as plant employees --- pushed to work quickly --- struggle to dismember them.
State law, according to Gail Eisnitz, the Humane Farming Association's chief investigator, requires that cows must be knocked out before being slaughtered. But at the Wallula plant, said Eisnitz and the workers, upwards of 30% of the cattle make it onto the line still with their senses. "The line needs to continue whether or not the cow is hung alive," said Adeliado Ramirez, another worker at the IBP plant. "The workers know that if they stop the line they can be fired."
Washington State's Gov. Gary Locke immediately called for an impartial probe of the allegations after video footage of cattle being skinned alive was shown to reporters last week by an animal welfare group. "If this investigation reveals any violations of worker or food safety or animal cruelty laws, I expect federal, state and local authorities to act immediately to correct them and bring appropriate charges," Locke said.
Locke also directed the state Department of Agriculture to work with the state Attorney General's office to assemble a team of experts to investigate the allegations as the governor wants a team of federal and state experts to conduct the probe, because responsibility for safety and animal cruelty laws rests with several agencies.
While IBP said it would take immediate action to address the concerns raised by the Humane Farming Association, specifically those violations caught on camera of the animals being dragged through the line while they're skinned alive, it also suggested that the employees may have mishandled cattle for the camera's benefit. "There has been labor unrest since a strike at the plant last year," a company statement declared.
In processing cattle for meat products the first stop on the line is the "knocking box" where cows are supposed to be stunned into unconsciousness by a high-powered steel rod that strikes their skulls. But at the Wallula plant, the employees contend, cows are being herded through so fast there is no time to stun them completely, and they are often dragged --- still kicking, sometimes with chains around their necks --- on to the next station.
The cows are moved from the knocking box on to the "shackler," the "sticker," the "skinner." With an animal still fighting for its life, the jobs at these stations become more
difficult and more dangerous for employees, the Humane Farming Association notes.
"Workers who attempt to skin and cut off the legs of live animals are often injured in the process," Spereyra said.
Meanwhile, IBP Inc., has successfully fought off lawsuits by a pair of Michigan families who ate meat allegedly contaminated with a deadly strain of the E.coli bacteria. Scott Michael Hinkley, 3, died and four members of the Boulahanis family became ill in 1993. All five ate ground round produced by IBP, distributed by Spartan Stores Inc. and sold by Prevo's Family Market Inc. in Mason County, Michigan.
The U.S. Supreme Court said it wouldn't consider the families' joint appeal, leaving intact a lower court decision shielding IBP and two other companies from lawsuits as long as they comply with federal meat-inspection rules. A Michigan appeals court threw out the case, saying the Federal Meat Inspection Act preempted the state-law negligence and breach-of-warranty claims.
IBP said federal meat inspectors had inspected and approved every carcass produced at its Lexington, Nebraska, slaughterhouse, the source of the allegedly contaminated beef. Until 1994, federal regulations didn't require producers to test for pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella. IBP also recalled hundreds of thousands of pounds of ground beef on two occasions in 1998, citing concerns about E.coli bacteria.
USDA CHARGED WITH COVERING UP
DISEASED CHICKEN APPROVAL,
RETALIATION ATTEMPTS AGAINST WHISTLEBLOWERS
A group of 28 consumer and civic watchdog groups have charged in a letter to Thomas Billy, director of the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the USDA has deliberately covered up evidence of diseased chicken being approved for consumers, and attempted to retaliate against the meat inspectors who brought the problem to light.
Signing the letter were Felicia Nestor, Food Safety Project Director at the Government Accountability Project, Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, Rodney Leonard, executive director of the Community Nutrition Institute, Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the Center for Food Safety, and representatives from 23 other civic and consumer protection organizations.
The letter charged that Billy himself showed total disregard for the Whistleblower Protection Act when he said at a February 15 meeting with inspectors that employees who talked to reporters about the situation "should have anticipated that there may be some risks to those that are involved in it."
The diseased chicken was approved under a new experimental slaughterhouse inspection system that shifts much of the responsibility for inspection from federal inspectors to the company itself.
Last fall, after the new system was installed on a pilot basis at the Gold Kist plant in Guntersville, Alabama, meat inspectors expressed concern that the plant was allowing diseased chicken to enter the food supply. On February 6, there were news reports that adulterated chickens were being approved at the plant and processed as chicken nuggets for the school lunch program.
In response, a senior government manager was sent to the plant on February 8 and the Office of Inspector General began a "preliminary inquiry" on February 9.
"We have no reason to believe product leaving these Gold Kist plants is anything other than safe and wholesome," the USDA press release said. But internal agency documents reveal that the senior manager, Karen Henderson, confirmed most of the inspector's charges that diseased chicken was receiving the USDA seal.
As soon as she arrived the plant added two "sorters" to the three already on the line to examine the chickens for filth and disease. The plant also slowed the line speed from 130 birds a minute to 51. Even then she found that some diseased birds passed all company controls. Company records show that before her visit the plant was producing 177,000 birds a day, and condemning only 5.5 per cent. After her visit the plant cut production to 115,000 birds a day and condemned 33%.
"These facts present a classic example of the value and necessity of whistleblowers," the letter to Billy said.
When the Office of Inspector General began its investigation, instead of determining the facts, investigators asked meat inspectors if they had released data to reporters, and whether they spoke to reporters while on or off duty, a question that clearly indicated an intention to seek disciplinary action against them.
Nestor told members of the OIG staff by phone that these kinds of questions were illegal under the Whistleblower Protection Act. The response was to end the investigation, indicating that it's purpose was to punish the whistleblowers, not determine whether adulterated food was going out to consumers. "We are especially concerned about this," the letter said, "because collusion to discredit whistleblowers is recognized as one of the prime motivations behind many retaliatory investigations."
"Your agency showed disrespect for its own inspectors and violated the public trust when you repeatedly led the public to believe that there was proof their allegations were wrong," the letter added.
FORMER MONSANTO LOBBYIST CAROL FOREMAN
APPOINTED TO SERVE AS U.S. "CONSUMER ADVOCATE"
ON U.S. BIOTECH CONSULTATIVE FORUM DELEGATION
Ignoring the unanimous recommendation of many consumer and agriculture groups
concerned about biotechnology, the White House, with input from the U.S. State Department, recently appointed its own "consumer advocate" to the global Biotech Consultative Forum on May 31.
"I'd say that the massive PR counter assault against biotech activists has just scored its most important victory with this appointment of one of them as our consumer activist,"
charged John Stauber, PR Watch Managing Editor in reacting to the appointment of Carol Tucker Foreman of the now very dubious "Consumer Federation of America" (CFA) to serve on the panel.
Although a number of groups had forwarded the name of Dr. Michael Hansen of Consumer Union's Consumer Policy Institute, Dr. Hansen, who has testified before Congress and many other bodies exposing false claims made by the Monsanto Corporation pertaining to the company's manufacture of recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone and other products, was passed over in favor of Foreman, a recent former lobbyist for Monsanto.
Foreman is currently working on a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, a heavy investor in biotechnology research and now heads up the food issues section, which
includes Genetically Modified Organisms, for CFA, a Greenwashing group which happily accepts food industry funding.
Before leaving her lucrative lobbying firm --- now called Heidepriem & Mager --- last year, Foreman's many corporate clients included Monsanto, Procter & Gamble, and other agribusiness and biotech companies, as well as the tobacco giant Philip Morris ("Carol Foreman is one of the most respected consumer activists in town, formerly an Assistant Secretary of Agriculture"), who is also the largest food corporation in the U.S.
Stauber notes that Foreman has certainly shown "an interest" in the GE food issue. "That's why she helped Monsanto lead the fight to make sure that rBGH was approved, without labeling, by the Clinton administration. She was no doubt crucial in keeping her allies at Center for Science in the Public Interest, Public Voice and CFA quiet an the sidelines throughout that fight.
"Yes, she had more than an interest in the GE food issue, she had a huge personal political and economic stake, helping Monsanto and her food industry clients. Unfortunately for them, ramming rBGH down our throats hasn't made these issues go away (oh, those pesky foreign activist!), and now once again, in my opinion, its Carol to the rescue, wearing her `consumer advocate' hat," Stauber adds.
Stauber goes on to point out that some suspect that Foreman's appointment has been long in the works, "that the primary reason she left her incredibly lucrative corporate lobby firm to take her current position as food czar with the CFA was to use her corporate, political and public interest connections to pave the way for a resolution of the current trade impasse on genetically engineered foods.
"The Clinton/Gore-led effort to rush GE foods onto the market has resulted in an economic and political train wreck internationally, and fixing this mess for the Democrats and the food and biotech industry requires someone of Foreman's skills, someone who has the incredible ability to sell herself inside the beltway as a `consumer advocate' while pulling in huge money as a biotech and food industry lobbyist," he adds.
Foreman was the executive director of CFA before starting her corporate lobby career, and while a corporate lobbyist she headed up the board of the food-industry funded Public Voice organization. When she moved back to CFA last year, Public Voice became part of CFA.
Stauber notes that CFA badly needs infusions of corporate and foundation cash, and folding Public Voice into its operation under Foreman has delivered the money. For
instance, CFA's National Food Policy Conference was "held in cooperation with the National Food Processors Association, with technical assistance from the International Food Information Council. Support the 2000 biotechnology component was provided by the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA).
The AFIA is a huge trade association and lobby group unknown to most Americans, but it is the group responsible for launching and coordinating the campaign to put food disparagement laws on the books in a number of states throughout the nation.
"The arrogance of the biotech food industry," Stauber points out, "has gotten them into their current mess. They are hoping the arrogance of naming Carol to this position will help get them out. This will be a real test of just how much clout U.S. activists have. Leafletting supermarkets and dressing up like a GE carrot is one thing, but it means little if biotech/food lobbyists like Carol are handed the baton."
The U.S. and the European Union (EU) have agreed to establish a Consultative Forum to review and assess the benefits and risks of biotechnology and prepare a report on these issues for the December 2000 U.S.-EU Summit.. The Forum includes individuals from outside government covering a broad range of perspectives, expertise, and interests --- people with backgrounds in labor, academia, and business, including scientists, ethicists, environmental interests, farmers, and consumers. They will look at factors such as the food security needs of developing countries, food safety, health and the
With the exception of Becky Goldburg of the Environmental Defense Fund, there are no known critics of biotechnology appointed to the Biotech Consultative Forum Board by the "environmental-friendly" Clinton/Gore administration. Corporate interests (including non-profit organizational mouthpieces for the biotech industry) are heavily weighted.
And, as Stauber observes, the venerable Norman Borlaug, father of high chemical-use agriculture, is also on the Board of Directors (not just the advisory board) of Elizabeth Whelan's American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), the oldest far-right industry funded think tank attacking concerns about rBGH, biotech foods, chemical poisons, asbestos, global warming and everything else but tobacco as "junk science" promoted by "extremists" and "food terrorists" who just want to scare the public into buying books and sending them money.
"So, the bottom-line is that Elizabeth Whelan has better representation on this committee, much better, than U.S. consumers and public interest activists."
MONSANTO DISCOVERS WILD GENE FRAGMENTS
IN ITS GM ROUNDUP READY SOYBEANS
"This shows exactly what we have been saying for years, that genetic modification is inherently unpredictable and will have all sorts of knock-on effects once released into
the environment," Andy Tait, a GM campaigner for Greenpeace UK, recently declared in reacting to the news that Monsanto had revealed that its most widely used "genetically modified" product --- Roundup Ready soybeans --- contains unexpected gene fragments.
As James Meikle reported in The Guardian, the Monsanto news raises "fresh doubts that the technology is properly understood."
The two extra gene fragments were found in modified soya beans that have been grown commercially in the U.S. for four years and used as a key ingredient in processed foods sold in Britain for a similar period. Monsanto had alerted UK's Department of the Environment to the results of new studies on its Roundup Ready soybeans on May 19, two days after ministers revealed that thousands of acres of oilseed rape had been grown unwittingly from conventional seed contaminated by GM material.
Monsanto said the new studies used more advanced techniques to provide "updated molecular characterization" of its beans which contain an inserted gene to ensure they are not destroyed by weedkiller. The tests found that two "inactive" pieces of genetic material were inserted at the same time as the whole gene. Dan Verakis, a spokesman for the company, said: "All this means is we are able to see genes in soya more clearly now. It is like putting a telescope in orbit allows astronomers to see stars better."
Monsanto, which is now a subsidiary of Pharmaica, and the British government, which approved the soya's use in food and animal feed on behalf of the EU insist that the beans are no more risky to human health than conventional types.
However, Meikle reports, "the revelation will cause further problems for ministers trying to prove they can manage and monitor the introduction of the technology."
Reacting to the new Monsanto study, Craig Winters, Executive Director, The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods, observes that "this `discovery' poses the question: `If they didn't know about these "unexpected gene fragments" what else don't they know?'
"Here we go again. Monsanto wants us to trust them when they say their genetically engineered crops are safe. Yet the report in the Guardian newspaper is further evidence that there are a lot unknown factors about genetically engineered foods." Winters adds.
BITS & BITES
WHAT NEXT/ A FIVE-COURSE DINNER PILL? At Cornell University, the New York Times reports, a team of student researchers have found a way to pack a whole salad into a 5-by-2-inch snack bar --- freeze-dried tomatoes, green and red peppers, carrots, onions, radishes, celery and cucumbers mixed with croutons and bound together with an egg-white paste, molded and baked into something rather like a granola bar."Our greatest challenge was the texture of the product," said David Feuerman, a senior.
THE URGE TO MERGE: Prudential Securities analyst John McMillan recently explained to the Washington Post the buy-out pressure running rampant in today's food industry."There are seven or eight of what I call `vestal virgins,' companies with $10 billion to $15 billion in market capitalization that are big enough to survive, but not big enough to grow." He said to watch for the takeover of Bestfoods, Kellogg, Nabisco, Quaker, Ralston, Campbell's Soup, General Mills, and Heinz. The Post on May 16, reported on the trend, "Food Industry Hungers For More Consolidation." McMillan said "the sudden push is an effort by the acquiring companies to boost stock values for their shareholders."
CAN'T TELL THE PLAYERS WITHOUT A PROGRAM: Although most industry experts had said a Unilever-Bestfoods combination was likely, Reuters reports, Bestfoods explored a variety of alternatives and was linked to Britain's Diageo and H.J. Heinz. Furthermore, at the same time it was considering a sweetened bid from Unilever, Bestfoods was assessing a potential acquisition of struggling Campbell Soup Co.
USDA'S OBJECT OF CONFECTIONS: USDA Secretary Dan Glickman who in late 1996 at a Rome food conference was the object of naked women protesters who
threw what they called nongenetically modified soybeans at him, who when in Montana a few months later had a bucket of rotten buffalo guts thrown at him by a woman protesting the killing of bison that stray from national parks and who three weeks ago, while attending a House Committee hearing, saw a man upset about shipments of contaminated soda to Eastern Europe threatened to kill himself and smashed two bottles, showering the room with glass and carbonated soda has been "assaulted" once again.
The New York Times' Marian Burros reports that as Glickman was about to address the opening session of the National Nutrition Summit in Washington, D.C. an animal rights protester leaped to the stage and threw a pie at him. Burros writes that "the pie thrower, Arathi Jayaram, 24, who lives in northern Virginia, is a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. She was carried out by a member of Mr. Glickman's security team. Ms. Jayaram was charged with assault of a cabinet official. The charge carries a recommended penalty of up to a year in jail, but there is no category in federal sentencing guidelines for assault with a pie in a disposable aluminum tin."
SEARCH ENGINE FEATURE TO ACCESS
CORPORATE AGRIBUSINESS RESEARCH PROJECT
WORLD WIDE WEB SITE INTRODUCED
Another new feature has been added to the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project (CARP) web site. A streamlined search engine which will allow viewers to find needed information by simply using a key word. While the search engine will soon become a fixture within the current site, it can presently be accessed at:
The CARP web site, which is now posted on the World Wide Web, features: THE AGBIZ TILLER, THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER and "Between the Furrows."
THE AGBIZ TILLER, the progeny of the one-time printed newsletter, now becomes an on-line news feature of the Project. Its initial essay concerns one Hillary Rodham Clinton, the candidate for a U.S. Senate seat in New York State.
In "HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON'S $99,537 MIRACLE: IT'S THE PITS!!!" now available through THE AGBIZ TILLER you'll learn some of the messy details behind her cattle futures "miracle." You will also find in this section the archives for past editions of the THE AGBIZ TILLER.
By popular reader demand THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER section includes not only an issue-by-issue and verbose index of this weekly e-mail newsletter, but an archive of past issues #1 through #51..
In "Between the Furrows" there is a wide range of pages designed to inform and educate readers on the inner workings of corporate agribusiness. In addition to CARP's "Mission Statement," "Overview" and the Project director's "Publication Background," the viewer will find a helpful "Fact Sheet" on agriculture and corporate agribusiness; a "Fact Miners" page which is an effort to assist the reader in the necessary art of researching corporations; a "Links" page which allow the reader to survey various useful
public interest, government and corporate web sites; a "Feedback" page for reader input, and a page where readers can order directly the editor's The Corporate Reapers: The Book of Agribusiness.
The CARP web site was design and produced by ElectricArrow of Seattle, Washington.
Simply by clicking on either of the addresses below all the aforementioned features and information are yours to enjoy, study, absorb and sow.