by Ilana Mercer
Recently by Ilana Mercer: The Marching Camp (and Mating Habits) of Rome'sMilitary
Karen De Coster is an accounting/finance professional and a freelance writer, blogger, speaker, and sometimes unpaid troublemaker. She writes about economics, financial markets, the medical establishment, the corporate state, food politics, and essentially, anything that encroaches upon the freedom of her fellow human beings.
ILANA MERCER: State-subsidized Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are the intensive rearing facilities in which the animals we eat live wretched lives and die a ghastly death. Libertarians ("bookish buffoons" you call them) generally consider these death camps for critters as exemplars of the free market. Most have not awoken to the fact that factory farms (CAFOs) are antithetical to the free market. Explain.
KAREN DE COSTER: The CAFO concept is an industrial concept. Large numbers of animals began to come out of CAFOs in the 1950s, and then more so through the 1970s and 1980s, when cattle and pigs began to come predominantly from the CAFO system. That time period saw the shift from the family farm to large industrial factory farming.
The confinement model aims at economies of scale — that is, the highest output at the lowest cost. In the meat industry, this model sacrifices food quality and raises ethical concerns in order to maintain desired profit margins. Yet many libertarians (and I am a market anarchist) who refuse to explore the facts of food politics still believe that the mega-industrial machine is the epitome of the free market. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the United States as well as Europe, there are billions of dollars per year in government subsidies to support this model of animal agriculture.
First, the government subsidies artificially lower the cost of feed that saves the industry, as a whole, billions per year. This allows for a large reduction in operating costs. The competitors of these industrial-factory farms are those farmers who choose to farm their animals in diversified, pasture-based systems where they produce their own forage, and without government subsidies. Additionally, farm bills come with massive incentives to influence investment in the industrial-factory farming system, and this spurs artificial growth.
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a mandatory spending program, doles out financial and technical assistance for agriculture conservation. It's actually a welfare program for CAFOs because these large-scale operations leave behind a massive trail of environmental and biological destruction — soil erosion and sedimentation, polluted watersheds, and manure and wastewater issues. This impacts the air, water, and land quality. There are also public health consequences from the routine administration of antibiotics that is necessary to keep animals alive within an intensely confined area.
Thus the government contributes to the cost of conservation practices to clean up the mess to sustain profit margins in the industry and keep the industrial farms operable. An EQIP contract can pay up to 90 percent of the costs for planning, design, capital, labor, maintenance, and training for conservation projects. This program was funded to the tune of $1.75 billion for fiscal year 2012. The subsidies are just one reason why this industrial agricultural model has been called unsustainable.
Government policy has created CAFOS, and many years of supplementary government policies serves to maintain their existence. If the industrial-factory model farmers were left to clean up their own mess to sustain operations and pay their own costs, the industry model would be unprofitable. Instead, these streams of subsidies enable low-cost industrial food and healthy profit margins, and this is what the pasture-based farmers are up against.
Lastly, to your point, what kind of human beings are comfortable with the fact that these livestock are indeed abused while they live the life of hell, kept barely alive in squalid conditions, with no mercy for them in their death? I'm not sure how the house pet — cat, lizard, or other furry rat — is seen as sacred while we allow animals, who eventually become our food, to be tortured and maimed. Not only is the food product adversely affected in terms of quality, but also, the means of getting the food to the table are appalling and unethical.
MERCER: The USDA food pyramid, the "nutrition-diet establishment," the Standard American Diet (SAD), and the Sovietized medical establishment that pushes food orthodoxy: How much, in your opinion, are they to blame for the fact that Americans prefer to eat food out of a box? We are not nearly as lazy or as statist as the French, yet the French have managed to cling to a fine culinary tradition.
DE COSTER: The government deserves all of the blame because the food pyramid was not founded on science, but rather, it was based on politics and serving special interests. The food pyramid is a purely political animal developed by politicians for political purposes. It was Senator George McGovern and his Select Senate Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs that gave us these politicized and destructive federal dietary guidelines.
The food politics of the Committee were set in motion and McGovern's Dietary Goals for the United States were hammered out at the hands of federal politicians and a journalist who wrote the final draft. These dietary guidelines attacked the meat and dairy industries while they propped up the powerful grain cartels. The guidelines were heavily influenced by lobbying from the food industry foot-soldiers who vilified animal fat and won, in spite of the numerous, highly qualified scientists who debunked their political agenda with the power of science. The Dietary Goals for the United States (The McGovern Report) were issued in 1977, leading to the 1980 publication of Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, first edition. Since that time, the government has had a non-scientific lock on dietary-nutritional central planning.
This political catastrophe set the stage for the Industrial Food Machine corporatocracy and 3+ decades of the government Conventional Wisdomists and their Big Food allies making Americans fat and sick, while also sending our calamitous food "culture" overseas to make everyone else fat and sick, too.
And thirty years after McGovern put the wheels in motion by politicizing personal eating habits and empowering the Political Food Machine, he received the World Food Prize in 2008 for "increasing the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world." So here, quantity refers to the subsidized, mega-grain industry, harmful GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), and decrepit CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Organizations). Quality refers to industrial, processed, ready-made crap-in-a-box-or-bag fortified with "healthy vitamins" and marketed as nutritious because the plasticized foods conform to the government's low-fat, high-carb dietary guidelines and fraudulent food pyramid. And availability means all forms of food welfare, foreign subsidies, and the use of political force to sell subsidized agricultural products overseas. Dr. Mary Eades, a member of the ancestral health community, once said that "the government pyramid sells agricultural products; it doesn't sell health."
The French are indeed far lazier and prone to socialist norms than we are in the US. But they don't have the legion of Diet Dictators that we have here, in the form of government councils, special interest lobbies, propaganda squads, and nutrition nannies and czars. The French, in spite of similar agricultural methodology and subsidies, maintain a food culture that carries over from generation to generation. That is something we have never had here in the states. France hasn't had to deal with the folly that has raged here in the US, including a war on fat, meat, alcohol, and other fine food traditions.
MERCER: Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. As convention has it, Americans should give thanks to Native Americans for having taught them to plant corn. Even if this palliative history – this bit of myth-making – were true, all in all corn is a modern-day curse, is it not? Give us the goods on corn and Thanksgiving. What "primal" recipes made their way onto your Thanksgiving dinner table?
DE COSTER: Corn is at the top of the government's list for subsidies. The current farm bill gives billions per year to commodity producers of corn. According to the EWG farm subsidy database, corn subsidies in the US totaled $82 billion from 1995-2011. These subsidies take the financial risk out of the system, thereby allowing for a fabricated sustainability. Hence we have the corn-bred Industrial Food Machine.
Cheap corn is a staple in processed, industrial foods. No matter how unhealthy these products are known to be, they become the preferred choice of food for consumers looking for bargains in order to chop at their family budgets.
Additionally, we have had 30+ years of federal alternative fuel subsidies to support ethanol production. In the early 1980s, the government's ethanol subsidies made it worthwhile for everyone to risk getting into the corn growing game. They did, and the subsidies drove down the price of corn while the government's tariffs on sugar drove up prices of that product. These government interventions brought us an economical alternative to the tariff-burdened sugar: high fructose corn syrup. Like soybean oil, HFCS is found in so many processed foods, as well as beverages. Nowadays, you have to go to a Mercado (a Mexican market) to buy coke with cane sugar instead of the usual HFCS.
The pilgrims may have celebrated with corn as a way of showing gratitude for their plentiful harvest, but growing that corn involved risk, capital investment, much labor, and it offered no subsidies.
For a primal Thanksgiving, I have access here to free-range, heritage turkeys; raw butter; locally grown organic sweet potatoes, and fresh-off-the-farm stalks of Brussels sprouts. I make my own mayonnaise from free-range eggs, vinegars, olive oil, and nut oils. It takes 10-15 minutes to make a big batch that stays good long enough to use it all. This gives me a pass on the government's horrific soybean oil, most of which is made from subsidized, genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Furthermore, Monsanto corn will never make it to my Thanksgiving table.
MERCER: Speaking of the devil, what's up with the misguided love establishment libertarians have for GMOs and Monsanto?
DE COSTER: Wrong-headed libertarians worship Monsanto and exalt the Frankenfoods (GMO) industry because they believe these "food" innovations are advancing mankind and therefore represent the ultimate free market. No matter what your views on the science of genetically modified foods, the Big Food-Big Agra complex, as I have mentioned, is a heavily subsidized and government-enabled corporatocracy.
Stay tuned for Part II of my conversation with Karen.
Ilana Mercer [send her mail] lives at www.ilanamercer.com. She blogs at BarelyABlog.com. Her latest book is Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America from Post-Apartheid South Africa.