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What's really before you on the Thanksgiving dinner table?

by A.V. Krebs
Editor, The AgriBusiness Examiner (http://www.ea1.com/CARP/ )

(Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2002 -- CropChoice guest commentary) -- One cannot help but wonder as most Americans and their families sit down at the table for their holiday meal on Thursday if they are aware, or much less even care, about the menu of corporate irresponsibility, crime, corruption, deception and human suffering that is spread out before them?

Turkey:

Turkey is usually the traditional main dish of the holiday session and the nationís second largest turkey producer is CARGILL , the world's largest grain trader and this nation's largest private corporation. It also has through a number of past and present executives economically shaped and politically implemented a self-serving domestic farm and trade policy that has spelled ruin for thousands of our nation's family farmers.

Cargill's supremacy in turkeys is exceeded only by the large meat packer SWIFT & CO., which is currently 46% owned by ConAgra and until recently was a wholly owned subsidiary of ConAgra. Its Greeley, Colorado plant was reopened last week after a five-day shutdown by federal regulators because of recurring problems with feces-smeared meat. The plant has been cited by the USDA for a variety of problems over the past several weeks, including feces on carcasses and in meat trimmings destined to become ground beef, inspectors said. The USDA cited the plant 19 times since late August for allowing feces to contaminate carcasses. Three of those violations occurred 24 hours before inspectors walked out the previous Friday. The shutdown, the first in the plant's history, came four months after the plant recalled 18.6 million pounds of beef, then the second-largest beef recall in history, because of E. coli concerns.

Immediately behind Cargill as the nationís third largest turkey producer is PILGRIM'S PRIDE. Recently its Wampler Foods subsidiary in Franconia Township, Pennsylvania was closed after it was identified as the likely source of the listeria outbreak that killed seven people, sickened at least 46, and caused three miscarriages. The Wampler plant recalled 27.4 million pounds of poultry and chicken products, the largest meat recall in U.S. history. The Wampler plant's spotty sanitation record is similar to that of many large meat-processing plants around the country, according to industry watchdogs, and the recall further exposes a flawed food-inspection system that inspectors say allows too much contaminated meat to reach the public in the course of the companies high speed processing operations.

Cranberries:

Cranberries and cranberry sauce has also been a perennial meal favorite. Some 80% of the nation's cranberry market is controlled by OCEAN SPRAY . On November 8 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Wisconsin's Northland Cranberries Inc., filed suit against Ocean Spray accusing the Massachusetts company of several illegal activities designed to gain a monopoly in the market. The suit alleges price-fixing, market manipulation and "surreptitiously rearranging retailers' shelves" in an attempt to shut out the little guy.

Pork and Ham:

Pork and ham have also become popular holiday dishes and the nation's largest pork producer and processor is SMITHFIELD FOODS . This is the same Smithfield that received the largest pollution penalty in U.S. history, as in 1988 it was fined $12.6 million for dumping excessive levels of hog waste into a Chesapeake Bay tributary in violation of the Clean Water Act. The government agency not only accused the company of dumping illegal levels of waste into the Pagan River, but also falsifying and destroying records to hide it. In December, 2000, an Administrative Law Judge of the National Labor Relations Board also issued a monumental 400-plus page ruling against Smithfield, using some of the strongest language in recent labor history, for massive violations of federal law during a union recognition election at Smithfield, and found that the company had conspired with law enforcement to instigate violence at the vote count.

Poultry:

Poultry other than turkey is frequently also served as part of our autumn celebration and the nation's largest poultry producer is TYSON FOODS who along with several other large and powerful corporate agribusiness's have turned the nation's contract poultry growers into no more than indentured slaves, many of them forced to sell or abandon their life-long operations after the company arbitrarily canceled their contracts, while others have seen the loss of their independence as family operated businesses through the company's iron-fisted binding arbitration process.

Red Meat:

Red meat is only one of the many alternatives that can be substituted in our holiday meal for poultry and Tyson Foods chief subsidiary is IBP , the nation's largest meat producer, which in recent years has seen literally hundred of thousand of pounds of its products recalled from grocery shelves for contain the life-threatening and health endangering bacteria e-coli from its meat products.

In addition the large meatpacker not only has been in the forefront of rapidly destroying the independent cattle producer through its packer controlled cattle and formula pricing apparatus, but also in addition using immigrant, frequently illegal, labor as one of its many tools in its long history of union busting.

Cheese:

Cheese, cheese dishes and cheese toppings are also a popular item to go along with the other entries on our Thursday menu. More than likely such products will come KRAFT , the nation's largest food producer and partly owned by the tobacco giant Philip Morris. However some of those "cheese" products displayed on the table may in fact not be cheese at all due to the fact that since 1978 cheese processors, like Kraft, have been illegally using an inexpensive and plentiful imported substance called milk protein concentrate (MPC) in cheese to fuel their profits while deflating dairy prices. Consequently, dairy farmers are facing historically low prices for their milk this year. In August and September of 2002, Wisconsin farmers netted $100 million less in revenue per month than they did a year ago in 2001. It is estimated that the farm dollar turns over in the economy three to seven times. That means Wisconsin alone is losing $300 million to $700 million a month in economic activity.

MPC is a dairy powder that is 42-90% casein protein. It is commonly used as an ingredient in glue and animal feed. All MPC is imported. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has never approved of MPC as a food ingredient because it does not meet "Generally Regarded as Safe" standards. MPC does not have a "standard identity," meaning consumers have no idea whether it contains waste products that constitutes a health hazard and it is not inspected at port entries.

Mushrooms:

Mushrooms are also a popular food delicacy during any holiday meal and one of the nation's leading mushroom producers is PICTSWEET MUSHROOM FARMS of Ventura, California. For over 15 years, this Tennessee-based† agribusiness corporation has refused to negotiate a decent union contract with the United Farm Workers (UFW) who won the right to represent its workers in a democratically conducted election. Pictsweet during this 15-year period also has a lengthy record of labor law violations and has been found guilty of negotiating in bad faith and numerous other violations.

Appetizers, Condiments, Vegetables Desserts, Side Orders, Beverages:

All the extras that often make up our holiday meal from popcorn to spices, from ketchup to cooking oil, from tomatoes to potatoes, from pudding to toppings, from dinner rolls to ethnic dishes, from apple to tomato juice are all name brand products manufactured and marketed by CONAGRA , the nation's second largest food manufacturer. Along with the increasing concentration in the production, processing and manufacturing of food that the nation has witnessed in the past 50 years, has been the rapid movement toward vertical integration, where one corporation controls many or all of the various stages of the food delivery system.

There is only one corporation, however, that can boast that it literally controls everything from "the ground to the table" and that corporation is ConAgra. It's story of how it acquired such power, marked by its ruthlessness in its relationships with its suppliers while purporting to give consumers healthy choices in their brand selection is endemic of corporate agribusiness today.

Food Ingredients:

Ingredients in the various foods we eat at this time of year are given little attention as long as they satisfy the palate and cause us no undue suffering aside from a late evening bloatedness, upset stomach and the occasional heartburn. If, however, one tracks the numerous ingredients and additives in our food they would soon discover that corn and corn derivatives have become an essential part of a whole plethora of food products. Nothing on such brand name food labels, from potato chips to pickles, from chicken noodle soup to soda pop, from coffeemate to salad dressing would reveal that those corn ingredients came from but one company --- ARCHER DANIELS MIDLAND (ADM) , "Supermarkup to the World."

No other corporate agribusiness, however, better illustrates the depths to which the corporate culture has sunk. Using fraud, conspiracy and corruption in its efforts to unseen and unseemly control world markets in farm commodities through monopoly and price fixing, it produces and manufactures a wide array of food, feed and fuel additives, such as ethanol. At the same time, along with Cargill it controls 60%-70% of the nation's grain trade, it also has the reputation as the nation's single largest benefactor of corporate welfare through federal subsidies and tax loopholes.

Fruits:

Fruits, colorful and fresh to the sight and in abundant amounts, are usually always in evidence at holiday meals and this Thursday will be no exception, yet the chances are that such fruits sitting on the table will be fruits, unknown by their consumers, imported from abroad --- fruits which were included among the imported food products covered in a recent Government Accounting Office (GAO) report that stated that less than one percent were inspected before being shipped off to the nation's grocery stores and retail food outlets. Likely they will also be fruits that were not only grown on large foreign corporate-owned plantations like CHIQUITA, DOLE and DEL MONTE where workers are nothing but rented slaves, but were also more likely than not treated with chemical poisons banned in this country, but shipped abroad by major profit hungry chemical companies for use on foreign crops.

Genetically Engineered Food:

Missing from our holiday menu is any indication that an increasing amount of the food products we eat and are serving to our family and friends have been either genetically engineered or have unknowingly been genetically engineered contaminated. The industry that stands to benefit financially in substantial ways from these efforts to fundamentally change the nature of our food while at the same time keeping the consuming public unaware and ignorant of such changes is led by the St. Louis, Missouri MONSANTO CORP. This is the same company for over 100 years has been poisoning the public and polluting the Earth with chemical poisons and herbicides, including Agent Orange, carcinogenic and neurotoxic artificial sweeteners, PCBs, a genetically engineered animal drug, recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), as well as an expanding menu of untested and unlabeled trangenic field crops --- soybeans, corn, canola, cotton, potatoes.

Earlier this year a court found that the Monsanto Co. had engaged in "outrageous" behavior by releasing tons of PCBs into the city of Anniston, Alabama and covering up its actions for decades, thus handing 3,500 local residents a huge victory in a landmark environmental lawsuit. The jury held Monsanto and its corporate successors liable on all six counts it considered: negligence, wantonness, suppression of the truth, nuisance, trespass and outrage. Under Alabama law, the rare claim of outrage typically requires conduct "so outrageous in character and extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency so as to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in civilized society."

Suicides, Alcoholism, Drug Use, Divorce, Family Violence, Personal Stress and Loss of Community:

FAMILY FARMERS , are the last but by no means the least of what is silently sitting at our holiday dinner tables for in most instances this "horn of plenty" that is spread out before us is due to their efficiency, their toil, their suffering!!!† Yet, while we enjoy the fruits of their labor many of these same farm families are owing their meal this holiday to food stamps.

For far from the non-inquisitive eyes of the media we are still witnessing a continuing number of farm and rural business bankruptcies, foreclosures and forced evictions all reaping a grim harvest of suicides, alcoholism, drug use, divorce, family violence, personal stress and loss of community as the very economic and social fabric of rural America is being ripped asunder. Burdened with an unfair debt load, shrinking non-competitive markets, increasingly expensive input costs, corporations seeking to rid agriculture of its "excess human resources," an absence of political and movement leadership, public apathy and ridicule, and most of all lacking a fair market price for what they produce so abundantly, family farmers and our family farm system of agriculture today stands on the threshold of eradication. Indeed when one stops to consider all the conditions and the nefarious means by which this cornucopia of food has finally arrived at our tables, both the meaning and the term "Thanksgiving day meal" begins to ring increasingly hollow. bon appetit !

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