I ended my last look at Kerry’s position papers by saying next time we’d examine his five-point plan for mad cow disease. I bet you thought I was kidding.
But no. In politics, truth is always stranger than fiction, and our man Kerry has a lot to say about mad cow, or BSE. Here’s his plan:
1. Immediately implement a “test and hold” policy for downed cows. Basically, what this means is that Kerry wants meatpacking plants to hold tested beef until the results come in. This should sound perfectly reasonable to anyone who eats beef, ever. In fact, I’d wager that most people probably believe this is already part of federal regulations. Unfortunately, “federal regulations” and “meat” don’t usually go together. Mostly because meatpackers are bastards. But we’ll get to that.
2. More inspections. Self-explanatory. According to Kerry, “fewer than 30,000 of the roughly 300 million animals slaughtered in the last nine years” have been tested. Eric Schlosser, in his fantastic Fast Food Nation, puts the number at “roughly 15,000″ of the “approximately 375 million…slaughtered.” Whatever–either way, the point is, not a lot is being done to ensure our meat is safe to eat (and mad cow, despite Kerry’s wish to give it top billing, ain’t the largest of our worries). Kerry states “We must do more inspections…to ensure that the 1997 feed ban on ground bone meal is not being violated,” which is true, but he says nothing about the ban itself. The FDA describes the 1997 ban as “mammalian-to-ruminant, with exceptions.” In other words, cattle are not allowed to eat dead sheep, goats, cattle, deer, mink, elk, dogs or cats…but it is perfectly legal to feed them: dead horses, pigs, poultry, cattle blood, gelatin, tallow, and any and all plate waste collected from restaurants. In addition, there are holes in the ban a mile wide, which I won’t go into here, simply in the interest of saving some space. Check Fast Food Nation if you’re interested.
3. National tracking system to make diseased livestock easier to track and contain. This is, again, the kind of thing you’d expect to already be on the books. Kerry cites the case of the “Washington cow” and takes the USDA to task for not being able to “adequately answer” questions about the case, but what he doesn’t mention is that, as a regulatory body, the USDA has no teeth (and extremely soft gums). Even if the USDA could tell us everything about that beef and where it went, it couldn’t do anything about it. And this is because the USDA cannot force meatpackers to recall tainted beef. It can only request that they do so. It cannot levy fines if the meatpacker in question doesn’t comply with the request. And it can’t notify the public of the requested recall, either. So, while a tracking system would certainly be a neat excuse to slap eartags on cattle–and might even prevent some illness once in awhile–it doesn’t address the real problem.
4. A ban on selling brains, vertebrae, or meat attached to them. Remember how that 1997 ban is sort of a joke? This is Kerry implicitly admitting it.
5. Federal aid for the American beef industry. And here it is, the jewel in Kerry’s retarded mad cow crown. He begins by saying that “the first confirmed mad cow case in the United States brings with it tremendous economic impacts,” then goes on to list the woes of the meatpacking industry. For instance, did you know that “nearly two dozen countries” are refusing to import American beef? And that it’s costing the industry “$3.4 billion annually”? Truly, as Kerry says, these are “tough times.” His solution: “the federal government needs to commit to providing domestic aid to help the industry…this includes reimbursing farmers for any cows that must be slaughtered as a result.”
This is priceless. It would be funny if Americans weren’t, you know, eating this stuff. Let me belabor the obvious: BSE is spread via the repellent practice of feeding cows to cows; specifically, feeding cows bovine nervous-system tissue. Brains, spines, eyeballs, etc. This has been known since at least 1990, when British scientists demonstrated that pigs could be infected with a variant of BSE. The meat industry has been opposing any attempt at regulation all along. Even our own silly “ban” allows “exceptions.” Current “regulations” say it’s okay for cattle to be fed to pigs, pigs to be fed cattle, cattle to be fed poultry, and poultry to be fed cattle. And it’s perfectly legal for your dogs and cats to be fed other dogs and cats. I love this quote from the vice president of Sanimal, a Canadian pet food company that stopped putting dogs and cats in its dog and cat food in 2001: “This food is healthy and good, but some people don’t like to see meat meal that contains any pets.”
This is an industry that has consistently demonstrated bottomless, rapacious greed–which, by itself, isn’t unique. But the American beef, rendering, farming, and meatpacking industries happen to be gatekeepers for public health and safety in this country. Their willful, callous disregard for the lives of their customers deserves to be rewarded with lawsuits and prison sentences, not our tax dollars. You’ve got to give Kerry this much: he’s no dummy. The beef industry has been pouring rivers of cash into our political system for decades, and by appearing to be “tough on mad cow” by proposing regulations that range from the useless to the misguided–while doling out subsidies–he’s lining himself up for a piece of the action. Consider that the Outback Steakhouse PAC, all by its lonesome, has donated over a million dollars to political candidates (almost all of them Republican) in the current election cycle.
In essence, what you see here is the worst of stereotypical conservatives (corporate toadying and kickbacks) and liberals (overreaching, ineffective government programs), mushed together into a big brown ball. Just like what we get from Bush.
Next: Kerry on helping farmers and rural communities.