Organic Consumers Association

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Cook Organic not the Planet Campaign

Why the USDA Has No Business Overseeing Conditions on Factory Farms, and More

Why isn't the federal government seriously investigating the possible CAFO-swine flu link?

I've posed that question several times recently, most recently here. Now let me venture an answer.

The USDA is the federal agency tasked with ensuring that practices on farms, including factory animal farms, are safe. But it's also the agency that exists to promote U.S. agricultural interests. In other words, the USDA has an inherent conflict around overseeing conditions on factory-style farms. For example, training a cold eye on the systemic safety hazards of factory farming isn't likely to do much to promote the pork industry.

And from the start of the novel H1N1 outbreak, the USDA has tilted decidedly in the direction of promoting U.S. ag interests. Even though virologists and veterinary scientists have been warning for years that large hog farms create ideal conditions for the generation of dangerous new flu viruses-as this Environmental Health Perspectives article definitively shows--the USDA still isn't systematically testing swine herds for H1N1. It continues to rely on a voluntary-and little used-testing program.

Nor is it doing much, from what I can tell, on the problem of MRSA, the antibiotic-resistent staph infection that claims more lives every year than AIDS. MRSA has been pretty definitively linked to factory hog farms-specifically the dubious practice of dosing pigs daily with antibiotics.

If the USDA has been limp in its attempts to examine safety conditions on factory farms, it's been downright zealous in its efforts to promote the pork industry.

The latest: The USDA spent a cool $50 million on pork last week, in an explicit attempt to "assist ... struggling producers." That brings total 2009 federal spending on pork-the "other white meat," that is, not pet projects for cronies-to $105 million. The latest $50 million worth of pork will be shunted into the National School Lunch Program, playing its traditional role of sinkhole for unwanted ag commodities.

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