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The clueless feeding the blind

Everywhere you look there is a new horror about food consuming the mainstream media 24/7 showing up at a site like Grist, The Ethicurean or any of a thousand other excellent web sites that talk about food.My outrage for today is this article, Meat Wagon: Cow-feed misdeeds, in which Tom Philpott explores the use of distillers  grains, generated as waste when making ethanol from corn, as livestock feed.

Apparently distillers grains shares the bounty of problems it brings: it can increase the risk of e. coli 0157 (bad for us), cause sulfur toxicity (bad for the cows), and dramatically increase levels of phosphorous in the ground and water (bad for the environment). It's not a small problem either, the US ethanol industry created 10 million tons of distillers grains last year, with most (75-80%) being fed to cows. That number is expected to continue rising, especially since without selling the spent grain as feed, ethanol seems to be unprofitable. Even with all the subsidies.

In a sane world, the facts about e. coli and the rest would come out and the regulatory agencies would jump all over it and things would change. Sadly, or more accurately, scarily, the USDA seems to be saying that they know it's a problem but they aren't going to do anything about it. Seriously, check out this Des Moines Register article (Raymond is Richard Raymond, the USDA's undersecretary for food safety.)

Raymond said the government had no intention of restricting the use of distillers grains even if the E. coli link is confirmed, and would instead leave it to the industry to decide how to address the issue. One possibility, he said, is to vaccinate cattle.

"I'm not about to tell the cattlemen what they are going to feed their cows," he said.

No E. coli vaccine has yet been approved or use in cattle.

What. The. Hell.

Even if something creates traumatic, long-term, sometimes fatal, illness, the government will shrug their shoulders and walk away without so much as a stern "stop that!"? Seriously?

I feel like I should have stopped being surprised and outraged some time back...and yet.

What. The. Hell.

While we must continue the long-term political fight over the farm bill - this year's, the next one, or the one after that - and the subsidies that reinforce truly awful behavior on the part of agri-business, the only thing that we, as individual consumers, can have an immediate impact on is what we do with our money.

Like that tax 'rebate' that the politicians hope will buy your vote. You know what I am doing with mine? Getting a CSA subscription and a large chunk of cow. Maybe some pig, too. I hope that you, too, will consider doing this. Your local farmers need the support and you need the healthy food. It's a total win-win!

While you are thinking about how to spend your rebate to fund some local food, go read the Grist piece. Just so you can be outraged too.

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