Thursday, November 21


Mark Fiore is a good political cartoonist who becomes excellent in animated form - especially when he's taking on the topic of Voluntary Regulation, i.e. how the meat industry gets to regulate itself. The cartoon's funny and makes its point well, but I can't help underscoring the fact that Fiore considers it common knowledge that the USDA is simply a tool of the meat industry rather than any kind of government watchdog.


The USDA, a.k.a the meat industry's PR agency, has once again pulled off a great coup - this has made barely a blip in the news: That ol' JL Foods listeria recall from the beginning of the month - you know, the one for a measly 200,000 pounds? Well, testing from that plant's production has confirmed listeria ON the poultry products and the recall has been expanded to 4.2 million pounds - in other words, the entire summer's production of turkey products. Scroll - and scroll, and scroll - through this list of the varieties suspected of having the deadly, feces-based bacteria on them and you will be entertained or aghast, or both. Think about it: This is one of the plants that they actually caught. Happy Thanksgiving dinner!


Michael Pollan, of "Botany of Desire" fame, has written a thoughtful essay in The New York Times Magazine attempting to resolve the fact of animal slaughtering's unnecessary cruelty with the fact that we enjoy eating animals - at least, some of us do. For the first half of the article Pollan looks at the issue with eyes wide open and sees how lame the pro-meat arguments are, even going so far as to point out that any rationalization for eating meat, no matter how clever, is still a rationalization. Then in the second half he proceeds to provide just such a rationalization, and one which, unfortunately, makes him look like a complete idiot.

In a nutshell, Pollan's brilliant, unheard-of solution is to ignore factory farming, hope it will go away, and eat animals slaughtered personally by an old-fashioned, down-home farmer. This section is so rife with nonsense it's hard to restrain oneself from a point-by-point, but I'll limit it to two things: One, Pollan, who has in previous pages noted AR activists' ability to counter his knee-jerk arguments - because they've been around this issue and heard them all before - thinks he has come up with something the activists have never considered: How happy barnyard animals are to be frolicking in a cute little farm and how terrible it would be to deny them this happiness by not breeding more of them for slaughter. He goes so far as to claim AR activists - stuck in their urban ivory towers - have never seen animals in this state, a hilariously stupid blunder considering the traffic at animal sanctuaries, whose only difference from the environment Pollan lauds is the lack of slaughter in those animal's day planners.

The other point is that Pollan, ignoring the economics of the global situation, pretends that eating only organic and free-range animals is somehow a solution to a life-or-death ethical question. Not only is this bogus, it's been severely undercut by two news stories that appeared shortly after his essay: People buying "organic" beef at an upscale organic-food chain in New York found that they had been swindled into buying cruddy USDA-grade IBP beef because the store had cunningly switched labels; and a UK study found that chickens who spend more time frolicking outdoors are twice as likely to carry Campylobacter, a major - if not THE major - source of food poisoning. Oh well... time to think up another rationale.

Tuesday, November 19


All right, that's a little inflammatory, but then so is the practice of quickly cooking burgers, by its very nature. The point is, the epic deflation of McDonald's as bastion of rapacious capitalism, and all-around cultural battering ram, continues apace. The company closes restaurants, lays off workers, lowers prices even more absurdly, yet still gets panned by analysts as well as American consumers, who mostly continue to buy while asleep... but as they wake up, are picking places with more and better choices.

As for French consumers, of course, they simply go ahead and burn the damn place to the ground. Chacun a son gout, I guess.


On FRIDAY, *cough* at the same time Wampler was re-opening its listeria-outbreak-linked plant here, and the USDA was finalizing a presentation promising War on Listeria - just like the venerable War on E.Coli about three months ago - frustrated USDA inspectors were walking out of the old ConAgra plant in Greeley, CO, forcing the plant to close by their action. What plant was this? Why, the same one that cause the huge, second-biggest-ever recall in July due to, that's right, E.Coli! AFTER the huge recall, the plant had already been cited another 19 TIMES for fecal contamination. As the Denver Post explained in its opening sentence, "The federal government shut down the former ConAgra beef plant in Greeley on Friday after repeatedly finding feces smeared on meat over a period of several months." Don't worry, though, "smear" tastes fine once you cook it.

Really, though, what the hell kind of War is this? Why wasn't the plant closed after its FIRST infraction, post-recall? That's recidivism, isn't it? OK, so they give it another chance to really clean up its act. So why didn't the SECOND citation trigger some kind of stronger action? The THIRD? FOURTH? FIFTH? etc. etc. and etc.! How can anyone take this "agency" seriously?

UPDATE: Tuesday morning, the Denver Post reported that the plant is now reopening, and attempted to answer the number question above (though not, alas, the "seriously" question). An interesting fact I overlooked in the original shutdown story is that the whole thing was timed to coincide with a three-day weekend for the company, so it lost almost no production time. As one inspector said, "It just seems too perfectly planned." I guess that's how it is when you have the USDA as your PR agency. At least they can do something right.