The other day I came across a post-WWII government propaganda film called “Meats With Approval” that serves as a great indicator of just how much America’s regressed politically in the past 50 years. This film should be required viewing for all the brainwashed suckers who still believe the rightwing lie that America has always been just as corrupt and hostile to the basic needs and interests of its citizens as it is today. That’s the sort of bullshit only the history-deprived could believe.
Released in 1946 by the Office of Information, “Meats With Approval” educates the average American about the history and workings of the USDA. It tells the story of how the government had to force the companies to adhere to basic food safety guidelines because they wouldn’t regulate themselves, explaining that USDA food safety laws were in part a result of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, a famous muckraking book that rocked America in 1906 by exposing the filthy and exploitative practices of the meatpacking industry. The book caused President Teddy Roosevelt to convene an investigation into the meatpacking industry that later led to the establishment of some of the first basic federal food safety laws.
You’d think that food safety regulations, feeble as they were, would be the one thing that even the most cynical right-wingers wouldn’t risk ruining. After all, even agribusiness executives and lobbyists haver to eat—and who wants to munch of hamburgers filled with cow shit or worry that you’ll be eaten alive by flesh-eating bacteria that can be picked up just by handling infected chicken?
Well, clearly they don’t give a shit. Powerful agribusiness interests bided their time through 80 years of regulation, waiting until the public no longer had a memory of what it was like to live in a world of freemarket food production.
Ronald Reagan enjoys a Jumbo Shitburger Supreme with Cheese. Mmmmmm…
Fast-forward to 1986: Exactly forty years after the release of “Meats with Approval”, under the Gipper’s watchful eye, Congress took a bold step toward curbing the tyranny of USDA regulators, courageously creating a “streamlined meat inspection process” that pulled federal inspectors out of slaughterhouses, and substituted in their place “regulators” hired by the meat industry, on the theory that the meat industry could more efficiently regulate itself than statist government bureaucrats.
“Department standards would not be bound to the traditional requirement calling for continuous inspection of every animal carcass or bird that moves along the processing line,” reported Star-News. Notice how the article mentions that not a single consumer advocate group opposed the bill passage.
Americans went along with it, and got played like a bunch of gullible fools, suicidally gullible. Once the deregulation began, the number of food-borne diseases skyrocketed, multiplying by a factor of ten by the time Y2K rolled around. E. coli outbreaks were practically unheard of before the 1980s; these days they are so common we’re no longer surprised. And we’re powerless to stop more outbreaks. Not only were there were twice as many USDA meat inspectors in 1978 (before the first outbreak of E. coli) than there are today, but the government has no legal authority to force meat recalls–only the meat industry can impose its own recall–that is, they have to be done on a voluntary basis.
Now cut to 2008: Twenty years after Reagan, the USDA is now an active force for evil. It’s one thing that the USDA got out of the business of regulating the meat industry; now, it uses taxpayer dollars to subsidize agribusinesses that sell tainted meat.
Case-in-point: In December 2008, the USDA announced that it was buying over $20 million dollars worth of chicken from notoriously corrupt chicken producer Pilgrim’s Pride for use in school lunch programs all across the country, forgetting to mention that there was an uninvestigated outbreak of a deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as MRSA (it’s also frequently called “superbug” or “flesh-eating bacteria”) at one or more facilities owned by Pilgrim’s Pride.
“MRSA Cases At Batesville Hatchery,” published September 2008:
There are [sic] serveral cases of the infection MRSA reported at a Pilgrim’s Pride hatchery in Batesville.
At least 8 employees from the Pilgrim’s Pride Hatchery are on a leave of absence right now.
Several of them confirmed to Today’s THV they have a form of community acquired or CA-MRSA. It’s an infection spread by sharing clothing, equipment, and touching.
The hatchery is separate from the poultry plant and the food is not at risk, but employee have been sick on and off for about a year. They tell us the company is not doing enough to stop the infection.
“Everyone in the hatchery has had it, but none of their family members has had this and that tells you right there it’s at the hatchery and they need to do a thorough cleaning,” Vickie Smith says.
Smith is speaking on behalf of friends who are currently employed at the Batesville Pilgrim’s Pride hatchery. Together she says all three of them have had CA-MRSA 23-times.
Ah, the USDA! How far you’ve come since “Meats with Approval.” Instead of shutting down Pilgrim’s Pride, you now help the evil company move its product, using taxpayer money to dump potentially deadly chicken meat on unsuspecting school kids all across the country. You make Koch-funded libertards proud!
And in case you don’t know, antibiotic resistant bacteria ain’t nothing to fuck with. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that overall they kill somewhere around 70,000 people every year, with just a few of the most virulent types of MRSA infections killing 18,000 alone—that’s more than the number of people who die from AIDS.
The recent spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is commonly blamed on the hospital environment and people’s improper use of antibiotics, but that’s just propaganda meant to distract us peasants from the real culprit: 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the US are not used by sick patients, but by agribusinesses, which feed, dump and inject antibiotics into just about everything that’s at risk of being infected with bacteria. Not only are antibiotics feds to healthy chickens, hogs, and cows, but they are also sprayed on key crops, like pears and apples.
Despite all that unnecessary sickness and death, it’s true: deregulation has led to greater prosperity for American businesses. For example: Cargill—the largest private company in the US, bigger than even Koch Industries—was able to cut costs (and boost profitability) by a tasty 25% thanks to rules allowing Cargill to legally mix in pieces of shit-soaked intestines into its ground hamburger patties.
Here’s a bit from a 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times article by journalist Michael Moss about Cargill’s E. coli shitburger meat:
On Aug. 16, 2007, the day Ms. Smith’s hamburger was made, the No.3 grinder at the Cargill plant in Butler, Wis., started up at 6:50 a.m. The largest ingredient was beef trimmings known as “50/50” — half fat, half meat — that cost about 60 cents a pound, making them the cheapest component.
Cargill bought these trimmings — fatty edges sliced from better cuts of meat — from Greater Omaha Packing, where some 2,600 cattle are slaughtered daily and processed in a plant the size of four football fields.
As with other slaughterhouses, the potential for contamination is present every step of the way, according to workers and federal inspectors. The cattle often arrive with smears of feedlot feces that harbor the E. coli pathogen, and the hide must be removed carefully to keep it off the meat. This is especially critical for trimmings sliced from the outer surface of the carcass.
Federal inspectors based at the plant are supposed to monitor the hide removal, but much can go wrong. Workers slicing away the hide can inadvertently spread feces to the meat, and large clamps that hold the hide during processing sometimes slip and smear the meat with feces, the workers and inspectors say.
Greater Omaha vacuums and washes carcasses with hot water and lactic acid before sending them to the cutting floor. But these safeguards are not foolproof.
“As the trimmings are going down the processing line into combos or boxes, no one is inspecting every single piece,” said one federal inspector who monitored Greater Omaha and requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
The E. coli risk is also present at the gutting station, where intestines are removed, the inspector said.
Every five seconds or so, half of a carcass moves into the meat-cutting side of the slaughterhouse, where trimmers said they could keep up with the flow unless they spot any remaining feces.
“We would step in and stop the line, and do whatever you do to take it off,” said Esley Adams, a former supervisor who said he was fired this summer after 16 years following a dispute over sick leave. “But that doesn’t mean everything was caught.”
Two current employees said the flow of carcasses keeps up its torrid pace even when trimmers get reassigned, which increases pressure on workers. To protest one such episode, the employees said, dozens of workers walked off the job for a few hours earlier this year. Last year, workers sued Greater Omaha, alleging that they were not paid for the time they need to clean contaminants off their knives and other gear before and after their shifts. The company is contesting the lawsuit.
Remember, this is what market efficiency tastes like the next time you order your Cargill-manufactured Jack in the Box shitburger.
Yasha Levine is an editor of The eXiled. You can reach him at levine [at] exiledonline.com.
Got something to say to us? Then send us a letter.
Want us to stick around? Donate to The eXiled.
Twitter twerps can follow us at twitter.com/exiledonline