25 February 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Your Feb. 21 editorial “The Biggest Beef Recall Ever” made some excellent points. Unfortunately, in a nation of more than 300 million people, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to produce enough wholesome food for everyone, especially as we start using our agricultural prowess to fuel our monstrous fleet of S.U.V.’s.

Even “factory” agriculture has its limits. At the same time connections between the food industry and government agencies like the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration have become so incestuous that we should expect little from them.

As nutritionists have repeatedly pointed out, the government can no longer even produce a “food pyramid” that makes any sense for fear of irritating some agricultural special-interest group.

If we cannot separate government from economic special-interest groups, then we will continue down the same path we are on. Common sense tells us not to put the foxes in charge of the henhouse, but politicians repeatedly deny common sense in favor of the needs of special-interest groups.

Gary L. Peters
Paso Robles, Calif., Feb. 21, 2008

To the Editor:

The correct response to “The Biggest Beef Recall Ever” is to not just be appalled and sickened at the horrifying treatment of living beings at the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company plant, but to realize that this is almost certainly just the tip of the iceberg, that not just cows are being tortured, but pigs, turkeys, chickens, calves and sheep.

And it is not just at the slaughterhouses but at the factory farms where these animals are tortured from the very beginning of their lives to the horrible end.

Indeed, we have not come far from Upton Sinclair’s “Jungle.” What we do to animals shows how we feel about other species. If we must eat conscious beings, we must show them respect.

Bertha Rogers
Delhi, N.Y., Feb. 21, 2008

To the Editor:

You rightly capture the magnitude of the problem of ensuring safe food products. You suggest that Senator Richard Durbin and Representative Rosa DeLauro’s idea of a single agency devoted solely to food safety is a worthy first step. Perhaps. Yet not mentioned is a simple step that will go a long way toward ensuring compliance with our already lax slaughterhouse requirements: Place video cameras throughout the kill process. The live feed can be monitored by any and all who are willing to watch.

The vast number of meat eaters brake for geese, call the A.S.P.C.A. if they see a mistreated dog, and shudder to see a wounded deer in the road. So why would they not insist that the cow that became their steak was treated humanely? I think most would, enthusiastically. And as the slaughtering of animals is not high tech, certainly no trade secrets would be at risk with the imposition of cameras.

This physical evidence of properly handled cattle would go a long way toward ensuring healthier meat while lifting the shared burden that comes with consigning millions of animals yearly to a terrifyingly cruel death.

Jonathan Spitz
Westfield, N.J., Feb. 21, 2008

To the Editor:

The biggest beef recall ever is something that would be expected as our food industry becomes more consolidated into larger and larger processing companies. Back in the olden days of the family farm we never knew about the occurrence of food-related illness because we did not have a way of tracking it.

Today, because of the consolidation of the industry, all of our trains are barreling down the same tracks, and it takes only one critical contamination to cause a disaster. Over all, our food supply is much safer today than ever. Vigilance in our food system is critical because bacterial pathogens will change and new ones will emerge.

We currently have a good system of tracking pathogens after they have entered the food supply and caused disease. The federal government needs to recommit itself to putting boots on the ground in America and elsewhere to inspect and protect our food supply. We cannot allow food-processing businesses to disregard safety standards without financial and criminal retribution.

Thomas Richard
Concord, N.H., Feb. 21, 2008

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