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Nuking America's Dirty Food

Another Assault on Public Health & Consumer Choice

Ronnie Cummins
Little Marais, Minnesota

As you undoubtedly already know, America's corporate food giants, especially the meat cartels, currently have a serious "image" problem. Upwards of 80% of consumers, in a variety of polls, have expressed increasing concern over food safety issues. The recent "Mad Cow/Food Slander" trial of Oprah Winfrey and Howard Lyman in Texas (see and the BSE panic in Europe underline the dangerous and volatile situation that industry faces. But in order to guarantee themselves hefty profits, the Food Lords have become dependent upon a national, and increasingly global, system of factory farms and industrialized food production and processing. This system is based upon heavy use of toxic chemicals, drugs, steroids, hormones, rendered animal protein (animal cannibalism), toxic sewage and industrial sludge, genetic engineering, raw manure (as low-cost feed for animals), and other questionable practices. As a direct result of this "profit-at-any-cost" food regime American consumers suffer from a literal Guinness Book of World Records epidemic of food poisoning, obesity, food allergies, antibiotic resistance, and food-related cancers, as well as immune, reproductive, and developmental disorders -- not to mention an increasingly contaminated water supply and environment. As a USDA microbiologist admitted to Time magazine, the processed chicken in America's supermarkets is "no different than if you stuck it in the toilet and ate it."

Business as usual finds corporate America's mega-feedlots, slaughterhouses, hog and poultry operations, and processing plants filled with sick, drugged, filthy, and diseased animals, most of whom have been intensively confined, terrorized, pumped full of antibiotics, and transported in hellish conditions over long distances. To guarantee even higher profits, large slaughterhouses are typically run at breakneck speed, with little or no regard for basic sanitation, public health, or the safety and welfare of the hapless (generally Latino or African-American, often illegal immigrant) workers who are unfortunate enough to have to work in these "modern" animal factories. For an in-depth expose of America's meat industry, read Gail Eisnitz's recently-released book, Slaughterhouse: the Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment inside the U.S. Meat Industry (Prometheus Books, 1997)

As reported earlier, the majority of non-organically produced American meat products are now routinely contaminated with feces, bacteria, and dangerous pathogens such as e-coli, salmonella, and campylobacter--not to mention pesticide and drug residues. No wonder 51% of American consumers recently polled by Prevention magazine said they would gladly buy "certified" organic meat and poultry if these products were available in their local communities. No wonder the meat cartels have prevailed upon the USDA to allow factory farm style intensive confinement, antibiotics, non-organic feed, rendered animal protein, irradiation, and other conventional agribusiness practices under the proposed "USDA Organic" label. Tyson, Perdue, ConAgra, Cargill, IBP, and the other meat giants know full well that millions of safety conscious and ethically concerned meat-eaters are ready and willing to go organic. The big ag players just want to make sure that real organic standards, as currently practiced by free-range and certified organic small ranchers and farmers, are eliminated, or at least degraded sufficiently, so that their factory-farmed brand name products end up on supermarket shelves at bargain prices with USDA labels that say organic.

The problem, however, is that Factory Farm Inc.'s current products are so contaminated they can no longer keep the nation's (and the world's) consumer backlash under control. When even government bureaucrats admit that every non-vegetarian in America is probably getting food poisoning at least once a year, when every media organization drools at the prospect of another sensational, ratings-boosting food safety story, it's time for decisive action. Not decisive action in the sense of cleaning up or making their operations more humane. Rather decisive action in terms of utilizing nuclear waste to irradiate feces and bacterially-contaminated meat and produce.

Never mind that food irradiation destroys 20-80% of essential vitamins and nutrients (this in addition to nutrients destroyed through cooking or canning), that it produces carcinogenic byproducts such as benzene and formaldehyde (which in turn are augmented by other carcinogenic byproducts after food is fried or overcooked), that it kills off beneficial bacteria and creates ideal breeding conditions for deadly aflatoxins and botulism, that new, virulent radiation-resistant bacteria will emerge, that having food irradiation facilities in hundreds of towns and communities will inevitably mean more radioactive spills and accidents. Never mind that food irradiation will give the nuclear industry a propaganda boost and provide a way to get rid of some of their radioactive waste--thereby prolonging the life of a deadly industry that should have been phased-out long ago. Never mind that animals fed irradiated food in numerous experiments developed cancer tumors, kidney damage, sterility, lung damage and heart problems, and that children in India fed irradiated wheat suffered chromosome damage

(For further information on Food Irradiation see the Pure Food website at: Or call the activist organization Food and Water at 1-800-EAT SAFE or 802-563-3300. You may also want to search for several books in your library such as Food Irradiation: Who Wants It? by Tony Webb and Tim Lang; or The Food That Would Last Forever by Dr. Gary Gibbs; or the Biology of Food Irradiation by David Murray. )

The problem up until now for the food giants has been that U.S. federal law basically requires mandatory labeling of irradiated food sold at the retail level (except for spices and processed food ingredients). Since 77% of Americans remain opposed to irradiated food--despite a barrage of pseudo-scientific propaganda--manufacturers and retailers are fearful of forcing yet another unpopular food technology on the public. Consequently less than 10% of spices and vegetable seasonings, and an even much smaller percentage of poultry and produce, are currently irradiated. However the solution is simple: stop labeling. On Nov. 21, 1997 President Clinton began this process by signing into law the so-called Food and Drug Administation (FDA) Reform Bill. This bill included an industry-inserted section that allows manufacturers to stop telling consumers on the front of a food package that the food has been irradiated. Instead Corporate America can now tell folks the bad news in tiny letters on the back of the package.

But even this isn't enough. In closed-door industry and government meetings over the past several years food giants such as McDonald's and ConAgra have made it clear that they will never irradiate their food products until all government labeling provisions are eliminated. But once labeling is outlawed, nearly everyone has agreed they will get on board. Formalizing this decision on behalf of its members, on February 9, 1998 the National Food Processors Association (yes, the trade association lobbying overtime to degrade organic standards), with a wink and nod from the Clinton administration, filed a legal petition with the government to facilitate an end to the labeling of all irradiated foods. The question is no longer will the government take away consumers rights to know whether their food has been irradiated, just as they've already done with genetically engineered foods, but only when it will do so. Food Bytes predicts they'll wait at least until after the 1998 November federal elections.

Of course the one good thing about the wholesale nuking of the American food chain and the simultaneous taking away of labeling rights for consumers is that this will create yet an even greater demand for foods labeled "certified organic" or "non-irradiated." This is assuming of course that we stop the USDA and the NFPA from degrading organic standards and outlawing alternative eco-labeling. In any case another huge food fight looms on the horizon.

Published in In Motion Magazine April 28, 1998.

Ronnie Cummins is National Director of the Pure Food Campaign (PFC), a non-profit, public interest organization dedicated to building a healthy, safe, and sustainable system of food production and consumption in the U.S. and the world. The PFC's primary strategy is to help build a national and international consumer/farmer/labor/progressive retailer boycott of genetically engineered and chemically contaminated foods and crops. To subscribe to the monthly electronic newsletter, Food Bytes, send an email message to: < > with the simple message: subscribe pure-food-action