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The beginnings of deregulation, and how feces became an approved part of the American diet...well worth reading!


Issue # 34 May 19, 1999
Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness From a Public Interest Perspective
A.V. Krebs, Editor\Publisher


Carol Tucker Foreman's return to the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) to become director of a new Food Policy Institute for CFA after having been an outspoken lobbyist on behalf of Monsanto's rBGH not only illustrates what can and often does frequently happen to ex-Washington liberals, but also calls into question whether some self-proclaimed consumer organizations now see their constituencies as consumers or corporations.

Foreman's advocacy on behalf of Monsanto's rBGH, the bovine growth hormone given to cows to increase their milk production, is but one example of her ability in the years since she left the position of executive director of the CFA in the mid 1970's to accept the position of Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Consumer Affairs in the Jimmy Carter administration, to favor corporate interests over the best interests of consumers.

Such an example of such favoritism can be found recently in an article written by Rod Leonard, long-time consumer activist and current executive director of the Community Nutrition Institute. In the April 23 issue of Nutrition Week, published by the CNI, Leonard explains how the discovery of drug resistant bacteria in poultry that puts at risk the health of American citizens is linked to a food safety decision in 1976 that most people never knew about and few remember today.

"Carol Foreman," he writes, "a newly minted Assistant Secretary of Agriculture, approved that year a change in food safety procedures that would have far reaching consequences. Foreman, one of only a few consumer advocates to reach so high a federal post, decided that poultry visibly smeared with fecal matter could be safely eaten after the feces was washed away.

"Any expert on bacteria could have told her then feces carry harmful bacteria which are invisible and which remain, clinging tightly to surfaces, despite repeated washing. Federal inspectors, until Foreman's ruling, would condemn the contaminated bird as unsafe or require the visible contaminated part to be
cut away. The washing rule was a profitable boon to poultry processors who no longer faced the loss of unsafe product.

"The new Foreman policy also sent a clear message to the poultry industry that the federal government had no major concern with invisible fecal contamination. The response was predictable. Within a year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported a substantial jump in the incidence of food poisoning that rose each following year.

Leonard notes that the discovery that poultry today is contaminated with bacteria resistant to flouroquinolones drugs has sent shock waves through the medical and public health community. The antibiotic is the most recently approved class of antibiotics which the Food and Drug Administration had expected would remain effective for a long time. No new antibiotics are available, and health experts now fear a rise in life-threatening infections and food borne illnesses.

New research studies, he continues, also confirm a finding of a decade earlier that drug resistance in bacteria in poultry and other food animals can be transferred to bacteria in humans. Experts now agree that introducing in animal and poultry feed the same antibiotics used to treat humans can quickly
lead to drug resistant bacteria. FDA found the sharpest rise in flouoquinolones resistance occurred after 1996 when the drug was authorized as a poultry feed additive.

Thus, seemingly innocuous public health decisions have far reaching consequences not evident until long after. Easing food safety standards a generation ago began a deterioration in the nation's food safety shield today that is a public scandal. And, bacteria swiftly become resistant to antibiotics when drugs are licensed as feed additives, creating a public health crisis that is just now unfolding.

"Reviewing past mistakes has more than passing historical interest," Leonard notes, "Foreman is now revisiting the public interest scene as a newly minted consumer advocate, having recently announced her retirement as a Washington lobbyist for various corporate interests, including Monsanto, a corporation that is building its stock value through manipulating genes to make genetically modified foods as well as public policy on food safety, i.e., lobbying."

Leonard recalls that after the Carter administration was booted out in 1980, Foreman became a Washington lobbyist and subsequently said the decision to wash fecal contamination was perhaps her biggest mistake. "The disarming acknowledgment was calculated to ease criticism and could be dismissed as an historic anomaly, but now requires further examination to shed new light on her return to consumer advocacy.

"Was the decision on washing fecal matter an innocent mistake by an ill-prepared political appointee misled by program managers who deceived her with phony research data, as she claims? Foreman was not then, nor is now an innocent activist; she had served four years as head of CFA. She knew the
importance of networking, of obtaining and using information from a variety of sources. She would have checked carefully.

"One of the sources on which she would have relied upon was a rich cache of political contacts in her home state of Arkansas. Foreman is a member of a politically prominent family in Arkansas. Her brother, Guy Tucker, served as governor until he was convicted of crimes not unlike those for which
President Clinton was implicated but escaped indictment.

"Thus," Leonard continues, "Foreman would have been aware of Tyson Foods, an Arkansas company that processing more poultry than any other company in the U.S. and the world. Does Tyson use its political clout? Company officials at the highest management level have acknowledged improper and illegal activities in relation to USDA. Can washing of fecal matter be explained as a mistake in judgment when the decision would have benefited the largest employer in Arkansas? Perhaps, but it begs credibility to argue that it was made innocently unaware of its value to the poultry industry."


In explaining his concern over Carol Tucker Foreman's reemergence as a self-proclaimed "consumer activist," CNI's Rod Leonard recounts that her 1976 decision (see above) on the simple washing of fecal contamination "was wrong and the magnitude of its impact in terms of death and illness among
Americans is reason enough to examine cautiously the next policy action on food safety which Foreman will advocate from her new platform at CFA.

"There is no mystery here," he declares."Over the past six years, even while representing Monsanto and other corporate clients, Foreman has been one of the most vociferous supporters of Hazardous Analysis Critical Control Program (HACCP), an awkward acronym for a program to deregulate food

"The major reason for Foreman's renewed interest in food safety, however, is contained in her explanation for returning to CFA, i.e., she will seek to develop policies `that assure food safety in a global economy.' HACCP is the keystone of President Clinton's globalization strategy to restrict the ability of Congress and of citizens at risk of health to make food safety a political, or policy issue."

Under HACCP, governments withdraw from inspection for food safety as a public responsibility in favor of company-based inspection. Food products in global trade would be certified for safety by governments as equivalent, i.e., a government license would be granted pro forma to move products across national borders since food safety is a company decision. Countries that balk would be charged with a violation of their obligation to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and threatened with higher tariffs or financial penalties.

"An unlikely scenario?" Leonard asks. "In fact, the U.S. already is threatening the European Union with trade retaliations for rejecting U.S. beef treated with growth hormones and genetically modified foods created by Monsanto and other biotechnology firms. If the U.S. does not adopt HACCP for meat and
poultry, among the most high volume products in global trade, then Clinton's globalization strategy to put food safety beyond the reach of citizens will collapse."

The prospect that HACCP will fail was greatly enhanced last month when the U.S. Federal District Court agreed to hear arguments on a motion to enjoin the Clinton administration from ending inspection and giving industry the responsibility for food safety. If the Court rules that only Congress can change the law, then Monsanto and the Clinton administration will be lobbying Congress to adopt HACCP. And Foreman once again will undoubted be lobbying along side a familiar ally, her former client Monsanto, to make HACCP the global food safety policy.

"If Congress changes the law," Leonard warns, "to turn over the chicken coop to the foxes, so to speak, Foreman will have completed the circle which began 20 years ago with washing feces. In its panic to cope with new and more deadly microbial contamination, USDA wants to irradiate all meat and poultry rather than clean up a dirty industry. If companies can choose under HACCP how to approve their own product for safety, then they will irradiate dirty food rather produce clean food. And Foreman's lasting achievement as a consumer advocate will have been to make feces an approved part of the American diet."

Although there is no subscription fee for THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER, donations will, as always, be gladly accepted. One of my subscribers says he pays $30 a year for 12 issues of a Health letter, and my weekly will hopefully go up to 52 so he feels it is worth at least the cost of a monthly newsletter. I hope you agree. Checks made out to A.V. Krebs, P.O. Box 2201, Everett, Washington 98203-0201 [NOT to "Agribusiness Examiner"] will continue to be received with much gratitude.

To those readers of THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER who have already sent donations I want to express my sincere thanks for your continued support and interest in this venture. A reminder also to those who might wish to receive a weekly e-mail edition of THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER, please provide your NAME and E-MAIL ADDRESS. At this time THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER is not available in printed form.
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