Omnivore - Agribusiness and its war against the consumer

If you pay even scant attention to the news, you know that food has become a major subject of political discourse. That's especially true recently because of the questions about Chinese seafood.On July 4, the New York Times printed an editorial about how the Bush administration, in its usual fashion, has put the public at risk to protect the interests of big money — in this case the big money of agribusiness. It has delayed enforcement of a 2002 law requiring country-of-origin labels on fresh fruit and vegetables, red meats, seafood and peanuts. Says the Times (subscription only):

As Andrew Martin reported in The Times on Monday, the Bush administration’s Agriculture Department was hostile to the labeling from the start. That comes as no surprise given that many of its top officials had worked for a trade association representing meatpackers and ranchers that opposes labeling. The Republican-controlled Congress, with key members beholden to campaign contributions from agribusiness, twice delayed the starting date for mandatory labeling, ultimately pushing it back to September 2008.

Industry lobbyists raise a flurry of unpersuasive objections. They claim it would be too costly for American meatpackers to segregate and track imported meat, and especially difficult to label ground meat which often comes from different cows. They also claim that labeling is a disguised form of protectionism, which implies that all foreign food is suspect. But these rationales are trumped by the simple argument that consumers have a right to know the origins of what they are buying. The required record-keeping should also help in tracking any dangerous products back through the supply chain to the source of contamination.

The Times calls for Democrats in Congress to implement the labeling requirement now, it being obvious that consumers ought to be able to make decisions for themselves about whether they want to risk consuming imported foods.

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