You Can’t Live Without Food and Water

You can live without a lot of things, but you can’t live without food and water. Whoever controls them controls you.

In the last few years there has been a dramatic increase in the concentration of ownership of our food and water into just a few giant international corporations.

According to Judith McGeary in Countryside Magazine, “A handful of corporations have an almost complete monopoly on the food supply for a majority of Americans.” These include Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, Coca-Cola, Tyson, Phillip Morris-Kraft, Nestle, Del Monte, etc. – corporations that are rapidly taking ownership of (privatizing) our food and water.

As Canada’s Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) put it, “Access to food, health, and nutrition once considered a fundamental human right is now subject to the whims of the market system.”

And what a market it is! Annual retail value of global food sales is estimated to be two thousand billion dollars – over six times more than pharmaceutical sales. (Makes a seven hundred billion dollar bail-out sound almost trivial, doesn’t it?)

We know the results for the corporations, power and super-profits. But what are the results for the rest of us?

I quote from Food Facts, a non-profit report available here .  “The human toll of disease from poor nutrition is soaring. U.S. deaths from nutrition-related diseases (365,000 per year) are rapidly approaching the deaths attributable to the nation’s number one killer, tobacco.

Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports soaring growth in three non-communicable diseases – heart disease, strokes, and diabetes. Unhealthy diets lie at the root of this surge.”

And once again, our government has played a significant role in this corporate take-over. Large government subsidies have made profitable the enormous increase in the production of high-fructose corn syrup and snack foods like corn chips. This makes junk food an affordable (albeit dangerous) choice over more expensive fruits and vegetables for many cash-strapped families .

Nor are those subsidies benefiting family farms. Between 2003 and 2005 66% of the $34.8 billion in U.S. farm subsidies went to just 10% of farmers.

So the large corporations are making big profits, the taxpayers are subsidizing them, average American eaters are losing – and 365,000 of them are dying each year – the ultimate losers. As RAFI put it, “Neglect of the public good is inevitable when the agenda is determined by the private sector in pursuit of corporate profits.”

What can you do? Garden and/or buy from your local organic growers. Here are a couple of web sites to give you a place to begin:

And Now for Something Really Appetizing — Sewage Sludge

The Harper Collins Dictionary of Environmental Science defines sewage sludge as a “viscous, semi-solid mixture of bacteria and virus-laden organic matter, toxic metals, synthetic organic chemicals, and settled solids removed from domestic and industrial waste water at a sewage treatment plant”.  Yum!

Typically it contains:

  • PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls)
  • Chlorinated pesticides — DDT, dieldrin, aldrin, endrin, chlordane, heptachlor, lindane, mirex, kepone, 2,4,5-T, 2,4,-D
  • Chlorinated compounds, such as dioxins
  • Polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons
  • Heavy metals, such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury
  • Bacteria, viruses, protozoa, parasitic worms, fungi
  • Miscellaneous, such as asbestos, petroleum products, industrial solvents. Also most likely radioactive contamination from hospitals and decontamination laundries.

As you would expect, this sludge (about 28 million pounds per year in the U.S.) poses serious disposal difficulties. The U.S. National Institute for Occupational Health issued guidelines for protecting workers who handled it that were similar to those for handling germ warfare agents.

Disposal methods include:

  • Incineration — which causes air pollution
  • land-filling — expensive, plus it may leach into the groundwater
  • Gasification (using sludge to generate methanol for energy) — the most environmentally sound method, but also the most expensive
  • Ocean dumping — this was the method originally chosen by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).

Unfortunately, ocean dumping is one cause of huge “dead zones” and resulted in disease and death of fish and shellfish. Finally, the problems became so severe that it was realized that a new method of disposal must be found.

It was decided to sell it to farmers to spread on agricultural land as fertilizer. Yes, really.

This caused something of a public relations difficulty. People may not know exactly what’s in it, but they know immediately they don’t want sewage sludge spread on their land.

The EPA met this difficulty head-on — not by changing sewage sludge, but by changing its’ name.  I’m not making this up.

In 1991, they officially changed the name to “biosolids” which they then defined as “the nutrient-rich, organic byproduct of the nation’s wastewater treatment process”.

This allowed them , in 1992, to modify their “Part 503” technical standards. The old sewage sludge, a hazardous waste, had been reclassified into the new biosolids, a Class A fertilizer. So sewage sludge no longer exists. After a little judicious “public education” the disposal problem was solved (well, for now).

There is now the pesky new problem that our fruits and vegetables (grown with biosolids) have become “leading vehicles of food-borne illness” — even deaths, according to the U.S. Academy of Sciences. Our strawberries, or lettuce, or spinach, or tomatoes, or apples, or whatever, might now poison us — even though they look fine. And the poison is inside, where it can’t be washed off.

It seems “public relations” solutions can solve economic or political problems, but do nothing for real world problems of food, or water, or shelter.

If this topic interests you, I suggest you read Toxic Sludge is Good for You! by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton.