Monday, February 18, 2008

Protecting corporate power against democracy

I've been reading Christopher Cook's Diet for a Dead Planet, and it has got me thinking about why I'm a vegan.

The big three reasons for being vegetarian or vegan are to protect the environment, for personal health, and for animal rights. The big reason I'm increasingly proud to be veggie is a little different. The more you read, the more evident it is that "big agriculture" is as corrupt and immoral as big oil, and I simply refuse to give these people any more of my money than I have to.

The ties behind big agriculture and government go back into the distant past, but for my purposes let's start with Michael Pollan's story about how U.S. legislators in the 1970's tried to recommend eating less red meat after getting good data that this would reduce heart disease. The agricultural lobby went ballistic, and told all these legislators that they would be actively campaigned against in their next election if they put forward their new dietary guidelines. What happened? Agri-business won, the government caved, and Americans kept getting heart attacks at higher rates than they needed to.
Picture from Choose Veg's dairy page.

According to Cook (pg 40/41), the beef lobby all by itself donated $28 million to U.S. politicans between 1990 and 2003. Republicans get most of this money, receiving 83% of the $500 000 that was given to congressional candidates in 2002. What does the beef industry get in return? Well, they get members of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association hired as aides within the U.S. Agricultural department. They get politicians to quash, time and time again, laws prohibiting the sale of meat from "downers" - cattle that die en route to the slaughter house. AND THEN, when mad cow finally scares legislators enough that they do ban the use of downers, it turns out that in practice, slaughterhouse employees shove lame and dying cattle onto the kill floor anyway, and therefore you have stories like the recent recall of beef in the U.S., where a slaughterhouse is shut down for using downers.

And then you have the damned hog producers, like Wendell Murphy, who give campaign contributions to local politicians in exchange for tax breaks and subsidies to their factory farms - despite said factory farms being the worst polluters in these politicians electoral districts. And who is Wendell Murphy? Well he's a hog producer and also formerly the North Carolina senator who was the chair of the Senate's agricultural committee. He helped exempt factory farms from zoning laws that would have restricted the size of the confinement houses and effluent lagoons, even those along sensitive floodplains. In exchange for contributions to senators, the hog industry in North Carolina was able to treat the eastern part of the State as one big sewer (Cook, pg. 179).

In Canada, where we like to think our politics is a little cleaner, we need to remember stories like Frankensteer from the CBC's Fifth Estate. Among other stories, these journalists talk to Health Canada scientists who were removed from their positions when they stood up to Health Canada and said they refused to approve antibiotics for cattle which good research showed were carcinogenic.

Hmm... we know that we're feeding these animals carcinogenic drugs, but when members of our national Health agency say "we have to stop this!", they get fired?

Anyway, if I had the time I could flesh out a few more things, like how the dietary food pyramid is basically designed by the dairy industry, how North American laws regarding animal cruelty and the transport of animals are archaic because the agricultural lobby prevents them from being changed, and how, if you were a good politician who thought you might have a go at the agricultural lobby, you better be ready to take on the pharmaceutical industry as well - in 1997 they sold 985 millions pounds of pesticides to U.S. farmers, and in 2001 they sold 25 million pounds of antibiotics to U.S. farmers (Cook, pages 164 and 64).

So, why am I a vegan? Because the people behind the meat industry care more about corporate profits than they do about the health of their customers, the health of the planet, and the amount of suffering they cause the animals who are their product.

And what galls me even more? All of this is made possible, at least in part, because of bribery, collusion, and knowing smiles at power lunches.

If all I can do is keep these people from pocketing my money, that's what I'm going to do.

Alex Carey:
The 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: The growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.


Veg*Triathlete said...

Awesome post, Chris!

I'm currently reading Bob Torres' Making a Killing, which I highly recommend. It focuses more on ideology than Cook's work, but it's a good complement, I bet. For me it's really hard to separate the different reasons behind "why vegan." The more entrenched I get, the more they're tied together (the beef & dairy industries' involvement in setting the national "health & nutrition" guidelines is a good example of that intertwined relationship.

grand house said...

Thanks for this blog, I wonder how else we can make a difference on this issue besides not eating meat.

Smudgemo said...

I have great hope the internet will allow this message to get out with greater frequency. You like bikes, therefore you must be semi-intelligent. You don't eat meat, so maybe you know something I don't, and perhaps I should pay attention. At least I think it will work like that. Very few people respond to shrieking "nutballs" that sound like the end of civilization is approaching.

klompengirl said...

It's sort of fun being a shrieking nutball though, don't you think? :)

sp said...

Thanks for this posting. it's always good to hear a thoughtful and educated view on the meat/dairy industry that explains why I'm vegan.

Andie said...

I know this is an old post, but I was just reading it (thanks for the link on my blog).

"So, why am I a vegan? Because the people behind the meat industry care more about corporate profits than they do about the health of their customers, the health of the planet, and the amount of suffering they cause the animals who are their product."

This is largely the reason I've recently become vegetarian. Thanks for the post.