Monday, January 03, 2005

Nothing the matter with Kansas: Republican Senators keep "safety net" intact

So there's another case of BSE ("mad cow disease") in an eight year old Canadian dairy cow but the US is planning to resume the importation of Canadian beef under the age of 30 months soon anyway. This comes as Arkansas City (Kansas) small-time player Creekstone Farms laid off 150 workers and reduced the remaining 650 workers to a 32-hour workweek, all this in a town of only 12,000. The reason? The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has refused Creekstone's request to test all of its cattle for BSE as required by the Japanese, who have banned US beef imports (see "Let them eat sushi" here). The USDA claims that the test does not guarantee cattle under 30 months are BSE-free and therefore the use of this test would be an unfair marketing maneuver. It's so good to see that the USDA is against unfair marketing and for the consumer. In fact, it's not just the consumer they are for. According to Dave Ranney, writing in the (Lawrence, KS) Journal-World (via Environmental Health News):
Don Stull, an anthropology professor at Kansas University who's studied the nation's meatpacking industry, said he doubted USDA and Creekstone Farms would ever see eye to eye on the issue because of the influence exerted by the giant meatpacking companies such as Tyson Foods Inc. and Smithfield Foods Inc.

"If Creekstone Farms tested its animals (in the manner the company wants), that would create pressure for the big boys to do the same and they don't want that," Stull said.

Four companies -- Tyson, Smithfield, Swift & Co., and Excel Corp. -- control 80 percent of the U.S. meatpacking industry, Stull said.

These companies, he said, fear that if one plant tested every animal for BSE, it would only be a matter of time before the entire industry would have to follow suit. That would increase costs, reduce profits, or both.

"You're not going to see USDA go up against the big boys," Stull predicted.

Ed Loyd, a spokesman for USDA Secretary Ann Veneman's office, disputed Stull's analysis.

"Everything we do related to BSE is driven by science and by the best known preventative measures," Loyd said. "And we've been very careful not to let marketing needs define that science."

Letting Creekstone Farms stake food-safety claims on tests that are not designed to substantiate those claims would undermine the agency's credibility, he said.
Undermine the USDA's credibility? That's a sick joke. The USDA's allegiance to Big Meat is nothing short of incredible. The major packing companies are big contributors to Republican and Democratic campaigns. Kansas "pro-business" Republican Senators Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts reportedly have been no help to Creekstone, which is more vulnerable because 40% of its business was done with Japan. Besides the opposition of the big packers, the cattlemen also oppose the testing:
The big companies' opposition is buttressed by the influential Kansas Livestock Assn.

"We do not support private, blanket testing," said Matt Teagarden, the association's director of industry relations.

"If Creekstone tested every animal they killed, it wouldn't be long before other countries would say ‘If it's good enough for Japan, we want it too," and then pretty soon, the domestic market would say ‘If it's good enough for the foreign market, we ought to have it here too,'" Teagarden said.

And sooner or later, he said, those testing costs would fall on the state's cattle ranchers."What'll happen is the testing costs -- about $20 a head -- will get passed back until it can't be passed back any further," Teagarden said. "The packing houses will do the testing, so they'll pay the feedlots $20 less a head; then the feedlots will pay the stocker operator $20 less. He'll turn around and pay the cow-calf operator $20 less.

"But the cow-calf operator doesn't have anybody he can pass that $20 on to," he said. "He has to take whatever the market gives him."
So let me see if I understand this: Market forces don't work, so the Government has to step in to insure the welfare of the cattle industry and the large meatpackers.

Who said the Republicans and the Bush Administration have shredded the "safety net"?