We Can't Reform Health Care without Reforming Food

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We Can't Reform Health Care without Reforming Food

By Bob Cesca on HuffingtonPost.com

If and when health care reform finally passes, we will have successfully ameliorated only half of the crisis. The treatment half. The next step has to be focused upon doing something about the poisoned filth we've collectively nicknamed "food." Without any real changes in how our food is produced, the health care system will continue to bloat and fall apart. Not unlike the insides of an average American body.

Corporate agribusiness has invested nearly $1.2 billion (and growing) on lobbyists -- more money than even the defense lobby. Naturally, much of this lobbying has been aimed at deregulating how food is processed and manufactured, as well as how corporate agribusinesses raise and process livestock. It's an industry that's entangled in everything from Big Tobacco to human trafficking and illegal immigration.

Most recently, and speaking of poisoned filth, you may have watched as Rick Berman was eviscerated by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC a few weeks ago. In case you missed it, Berman's Center for Consumer Freedom is financed by corporate agribusiness, among others, and tasked with deceiving the public about everything from high fructose corn syrup to transfat, mercury levels in fish, obesity issues, food labels, and tobacco laws. CCF is all about confusing the public by muddying scientific fact and skewing the debate onto ridiculous tangents to the point where it's difficult to tell the difference between what's healthy and what's crap. It's Glenn Beck's rodeo clown strategy applied to food.

The consequence for you and me, of course, is that the food is becoming increasingly toxic, both in terms of what goes into our bodies, and in terms of how deregulation and deception is hurting the economy. What good is health care reform if we're still being fed poison? What good is an economic recovery if big business is still gaming the system?

Here's a perfect example of what they're getting away with. In Ohio next week, voters will be deciding on a ballot measure known as Issue 2.

As I'm sure you're aware -- and I'll spare you the gruesome videos -- corporate farms maximize profit by packing as many animals into ridiculously tight spaces. Imagine being forced to live out your life in the equivalent of a high school gym locker. While confined and unable to move, the animals are injected with a variety of hormones, antibiotics and other medications. Medications designed for animals, not humans. They're force-fed grains laced with pesticides and other chemicals. And when they're not eating chemically-tainted grain, they're often fed the remains of other animals -- old or sick animals that aren't shoved through the system and turned into food for humans (we often share food with, you know, our food). The list of atrocities is lengthy, but the end result is that a variety of unhealthy, possibly deadly toxins and diseases wind up, unannounced, on our mouths.

The Humane Society:

...the American Journal of Epidemiology reported that people who eat eggs from hens confined in cages are 250% more likely to contract Salmonella. The extreme confinement of animals is also a major factor in the emergence of diseases like H5N1 and H1N1 (bird and swine flu).

And that's with the Department of Agriculture, along with public participation in oversight, keeping an eye on things.

Issue 2, however, would for all intents and purposes replace federal regulation with something called the Livestock Care Standards Board. The thirteen member board would be appointed by the governor and would include members who have skin in the game. The stated goal of the board would be to regulate how animals are kept. So it sounds like it's a good thing. They're going to protect Babe and his cute barnyard friends!

But that's not how it'll work.

Naturally, the board will be susceptible to intense lobbying and coercion from the usual corporate villains. Imagine Rick Berman types unleashing their evil fury of confused logic and lie-mongering on a small 13 member state board, as opposed to the massive and monolithic federal government. The end result will be conditions that are far, far worse than they are today -- producing food that's even more dangerous, and all of it overriding the authority of the federal government.

While sounding wholesome on the surface, Issue 2, to paraphrase Grover Norquist, is designed to shrink regulatory oversight so it's small enough to be drowned in a bathtub. Corporate agribusiness will be able to run the show and maximize industry profits by continuing the very practices that Issue 2 claims to repair. And it'll all be codified into the Ohio Constitution. Ultimately, any attempts to reverse course will have to clear much larger hurdles.

And here's the really scary news.

"We've tried to model this in a way that other states can look at it," said Jack Fisher, executive vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. "This involves farmers, ranchers, everyone in the food chain."

Oh good. So instead of spending large sums of cash lobbying Congress and the federal government, Big Food and corporate agribusinesses will be able to focus their efforts on small states and their quaint little livestock boards -- crushing them and reprocessing the remains into liquid form and dumping them into the factory feeding troughs. Not literally, of course. I hope.

So while this may seem like a small issue about animal welfare in one state, it's actually step one in a process that will make an already deadly national crisis even worse.

Much like we've witnessed with the health insurance cartel and Wall Street, without a strong regulatory body keeping an eye on even the smallest details, we all end up screwed in the process. Opponents will suggest that regulation only makes everything more expensive. But I would rather pay a little more for a pound of beef than to suffer through Stephanie Smith's ordeal with E. Coli:

Then her diarrhea turned bloody. Her kidneys shut down. Seizures knocked her unconscious. The convulsions grew so relentless that doctors had to put her in a coma for nine weeks. When she emerged, she could no longer walk. The affliction had ravaged her nervous system and left her paralyzed.

Corporate profits and cheap food to put on your families -- or bloody diarrhea, a nine week coma and paralysis. Hmm. That's a tough call. Let's have a small, vulnerable livestock panel decide!

Sorry, no.

If Issue 2 is written into the Ohio Constitution next week, it'll be that much more difficult for Americans to remain healthy, with or without reforming the health care system. Help us out, Ohio, and vote against this thing.