GAO to USDA: Put your money where your mouth is!
September 16, 2002 1:01 PM   Subscribe

GAO to USDA: Put your money where your mouth is! Despite advising Americans to eat "Five a Day" of fruits & vegetables, the USDA still spends a disproportionate amount of your tax dollars propping up meat production & consumption. In the wake of the enormous ConAgra beef recall (after the USDA waited two months upon finding E.Coli), lawmakers and newspapers are now openly questioning the links between the USDA and the meat industry. I think the question's already been answered definitively - a federal judge found a clear conflict of interest in the dietary guidelines panel - but are there alternate explanations?
posted by soyjoy (10 comments total)
Thanks, soyjoy, for the effort you put into this post. I'd completely missed almost all of this and am glad you've helped me get up to speed with this provocative collection of info. From the 2nd link:

The U.S. government said on Monday it will buy $30 million worth of ham, pork patties, sausage, and ground pork for the federal school lunch program to help hog farmers hit by mounting inventories and sliding prices.

So let me get this straight: We're shoveling $30 million worth of pork patties and sausage into the mouths of already-too-obese schoolchildren just to keep members of the National Pork Producers Council from suffering a market downturn caused by their own overproduction? And if anyone has the image of small family farms in their head, note that members of the Organization for Competitive Markets have attacked NPPC for protecting its agribusiness members at the expense of its independent farmers.

Thanks again, soyjoy. To me, this is a wonderful example of a news post done right. Bravo.
posted by mediareport at 1:48 PM on September 16, 2002

Interesting links and post, soyjoy. You may get trashed for having an agenda, but you back yourself up well, which is commendable. I hope we can see a day when the meat industry (or any other food industry) has no ties to the FDA, the Pharmaceutical Companies have no ties to the FDA, the auto companies have no ties to the EPA or the FTC, etc. etc.

For government agencies to function well and for the benefit and protection of the citizens, they need to be completely independent from anyone who's finances can be affected by the agencies' actions. Just another pipe dream, I suppose, but one worth discussing and fighting for, no?
posted by Ufez Jones at 1:59 PM on September 16, 2002

Sausage is far, far better for kids than sugar-laden, trans-fat-laced pre-processed crap.
posted by kindall at 2:46 PM on September 16, 2002

Just got back from the grocery store checkout line, where a friend added to soyjoy's info. He said another factor driving this kind of bailout is that the meat and dairy industries are considered key economic indicators. It's in the government's best interest to bail them out, as it makes the economic numbers and charts look better. Not sure what to make of that yet.

Ufez Jones, will we ever see a country where the folks who work in particular industries don't gravitate to the governmental agencies that oversee those industries? I doubt it. But I do think we need much stricter rules about the revolving door between the two. A 2- to 3-year cooling off period seems fair to me.

OT: I don't mind front-page posts that make a case for something, Ufez, as long as they leave room for discussion and refrain from spinning the facts outrageously. soyjoy scored on both counts.
posted by mediareport at 2:59 PM on September 16, 2002

sounds like the u.s. is a big agricultural enron, churning out commodities, pretending we've sold them while buying them ourselves in order to manipulate the commodities markets. no?
posted by quonsar at 3:37 PM on September 16, 2002

Want to read more about it? Fast Food Nation has a lot more detail.

Kindall, I figure that fat- and nitrate- laden sausage is at least as bad as Lucky Stars. Surely you can find something better to feed the kids. Like broccoli or spinach.
posted by theora55 at 3:45 PM on September 16, 2002

It's not as if the fat is necessarily bad for you -- fat alone won't make you fat, you also need a good dose of carbs to drive that fat into long-term storage. (This is why french fries and pizza are so evil: tons of both.)

The nitrates aren't so great, of course; I suppose we're not exactly talking about good sausage here. But at least they won't wreck your metabolism for life the way too much sugar can.
posted by kindall at 3:55 PM on September 16, 2002

Fast Food Nation mentions that the USDA does not have the authority to force meat packers to recall tainted meat.

Of course, in the case linked above, the USDA didn't bother to tell ConAgra that the meat tested positive for e.coli for two weeks.

How would you like to see "surplus sausage" on the school lunch menu?
posted by dweingart at 6:31 PM on September 16, 2002

I learned a lot about this situation from reading Diet For A New America, a book by John Robbins, once heir apparent to the Baskin-Robbins empire, who disinherited himself after being given a high-level insider's view of how the American meat and dairy industries really work. More information from his organization, EarthSave, on the issue in question here.
posted by bingo at 6:46 PM on September 16, 2002

Of course, in the case linked above, the USDA didn't bother to tell ConAgra that the meat tested positive for e.coli for two weeks.

And once they did, ConAgra waited another two days, insisting that the USDA do additional tests, while more people, unaware, bought contaminated meat. In addition to the USDA's lack of power to force a recall, they couldn't even get ConAgra to tell them where the meat had been sold so they could track down who might have gotten it. Why not? Trade secrets, of course.

In rechecking my original post, I found that I had overhyped one thing: Judge Robertson didn't literally say the USDA panel had a "conflict of interest" - the plaintiffs did, and the judge ruled in their favor. Still, when you look at who was on the panel, who was funding them, and how the guidelines turned out, the term you use to describe it is secondary at best.
posted by soyjoy at 7:16 AM on September 17, 2002

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