Friday, July 18, 2008

How to Miss the point entirely

In the midst of the Agri debacle, I've been even more focused on food in the news than I might be. Over the past few yers we've seen an awful lot of problems in the general food distribution system than ever before, from tainted meat ending up in school lunch programs, to all sorts of problems with vegetables from the effects of pesticides on our children to unlabeled GMOs appearing in our produce to the government enforcing the ridiculous rule that one may not label organic milk as not coming from RBGH-polluted cows without also noting that supposedly there isn't any difference between cows treated and cows not so treated (despite the growing evidence that there is). Oh, and don't forget the recent outbreaks of salmonella in produce.
It is thus not surprising that AP reports that people have become significantly less confident in their food. According tho the report people have changed their buying habits (when they are able to; those poorer people living in places where it's difficult to do so are even less confident in their food, and for good reason). One woman cited in the article has said that she has switched from supermarket produce almost entirely over the Farmer's Markets. Which is great for her, but what about those people who aren't able to do so?

But it's the end of the article that grinds me. As if it were somehow an answer to the problem, the authors quote Senator Richard Durbin.

"We live in an age of technology where you can bar-code a banana," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. "We've got to work this through with the industry and come up with something that's reasonable. The more confidence consumers have, the more goods they will purchase."

It then follows with the idea that federal tracking might be the answer:
While the produce industry agrees that federal standards for preventing contamination are necessary, there is no consensus on a mandatory tracing system. Cost is a concern, especially for smaller companies.

The poll also found that 56 percent of consumers do not believe the government has enough inspectors to scrutinize food imports. If more are needed for imports and domestic produce, 70 percent said the cost should be covered through fees on industry. That echoes a proposal by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The problem is that while that might limit the way the problem has been spreading in a particular case, it completely avoids addressing the real problem, which is how farming is done in our country. The government subsidizes big agro business -even though actually small farms are more efficient! - and in particular allows companies like Monsanto to corrupt our farming practices in all kinds of ways: whether we're speaking about the practice of hiring laborers who are illegally imported and underpaid - sometimes kept in conditions akin to slavery- who have no sanitary facilities (an we wonder how the produce develops problems?) and often are heavily exposed to pesticides, or whether we're talking about the ways that our government is colluding with big business over the consumer - that would be citizens, to you and me- in allowing those businesses to make decisions about what is and isn't safe for us whether that's genetically modified foods altered through viral insertion of unrelated genetic material (which can then spread -and is spreading, like wildfire- outside of the fields in which it's planted, to neighboring fields, weeds and unrelated other plants - and a whole host of other problems with GMOs as well) or cloning of dairy animals, or using hormones to procue more milk per cow, or simply getting with dangerous unsanitray practices (like pig farmers whose slurry ponds leak out into the ground water... the list goes on and on. The problem isn't tracking food; the problem is that we need to get serious about trying to alter the way we rpoduce food.

I'm not saying to get rid of grocery stores. I like my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program and our farmer, but if I had to depend on our weekly box, we'd all be rife with scurvy. Even if I supplemented it with other local farmers from the market (and none of the ones that actually have a decent possibility to supplement are all that close - I can't bike to any, I have to drive) that still wouldn't help me much in the winter.
But it does mean that we need to think seriously as a nation about how to reorganize so that our food comes mostly from local areas in the summer when it can, and depends on longer shipping in the winter when it can't. It means that we need to really consider our labor practices in the fields and what we're doing when we ship (regular food, let alone luxuries) from overseas, and how it affects the wider environment.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Railroad for women

Salon's Broadsheet tipped me off to this great website Women on Web. It acts as a referral service online for women who need an abortion in countries with restrictive access. There is an extensive list of questions the answers to which are forwarded to doctors, who offer an online consultation.
It's an amazing way to save lives. There's also a link to one of the "I had an Abortion" projects, which is an incredibly brave thing for women to do. As we all know, the information that a woman has had an abortion -even in fairly liberal communities- can risk her job or family - and that's not even getting into the risk to one's life thereis in putting up one's face online for the loonies to track down. Hameivin yavin.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Holey Cow!

slash beef
Failed Messiah and Gawker report on the latest (what? Not over yet?) scandal in the kashrut world. After the last round of scandals, Agriprocessors hired a PR firm - because as we all know, Public Relations is far preferable to tshuvah when a corporation sins- to restore its image. The firm, 5WPR, who has also represented the charming so-called "pro-Israel" pastor, John Hagee, (who hates homosexuals and Muslims and has had to apologize for sliming Catholics, oh, yeah and also blamed Jews for the death of Jesus, called liberal Jews "poisoned" and "spiritually blind," and been relatively unconcerned that he hopes for a preemptive nuclear attack on Iran even though he believes it will lead to the deaths of most Jews in Israel) apparently has engaged in some antics of its own.

It seems that 5WPR has left multiple comments on several blogs, including JTA and Failed Messiah's, under a variety of aliases, and also posing as Rabbi Morris Allen of the Hekhsher Tzedek, as well as JVNA officer John Diamond and another frequent FailedMessiah commenter (all, as FM points out, federal crimes). The comments were designed to support Agri, bolster one another and discredit Hekhsher Tzedek, the Conservative Movement and Rabbi Allen. Failed Messiah posts screen shots of the comments - well worth looking at, if only for their utter ridiculousness.