Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Feeding animals antibiotics, good for profits, bad for people.

Source: Mother Jones Magazine

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired.

 “A schoolmaster is a productive labourer when, in addition to belabouring the heads of his scholars, he works like a horse to enrich the school proprietor. That the latter has laid out his capital in a teaching factory, instead of in a sausage factory, does not alter the relation.” Marx

It’s the same old story, a mine explosion occurs killing workers, an outbreak of food poisoning affects thousands, an oil spill pollutes an entire gulf killing 11 workers in the process and an entire town is almost blown to smithereens as a fertilizer plant erupts in West Texas.

The cries of foul follow.  Politicians like the Democratic governor of West Virginia, a long time friend of the coal industry and guardian of its interests, appears on TV concerned about public safety after a chemical is leaked in to the local water supply cutting off service to some 300,000 residents in nine counties. I read in the Wall Street Journal this morning that a “host of lawmakers and agencies” intend to launch an investigation in to leak.

Barbara Boxer who is top dog on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is planning hearings on the issue. Another Democrat, Joe Manchin, “pledged to investigate and seek a legislative fix to help prevent chemical spills from storage facilities.”, the WSJ writes. They are all concerned citizens now. But where have they been?

This frenetic activity always occurs after the fact, after workers have died, after the environment has been poisoned. As I pointed out in my commentary on the West Virginia crisis yesterday, these are not accidental occurrences; they are the products of conscious decisions made by people in power, the very same people who are now calling for investigations and crying crocodile tears for the victims. They are the same forces that pay politicians to ensure that business can be conducted without interference from the state agencies, safety regulations and unions.

There already exists legislation, the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act; these politicians will not write legislation that harms profits though, not without extreme pressure and these will only be temporary and loophole riddled.  The famed S&L crisis that allowed bankers to steal millions from mostly senior citizens was made possible by legislation introduced by the politicians of both parties of Wall Street, who cried the same crocodile tears after the fact. One person went to jail in that fiasco and the taxpayer received a $300 billion bill.

The social costs of their pro-market policies are staggering. Look at the food industry. The same forces that block legislation that would protect---even in the most minimal way---the public and human life against dangerous industrial chemicals, also protect the profits of the food factory bosses.

The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future estimates that Nearly 80 percent of antibiotics consumed in the United States go to livestock farms. One would think that we have a lot of sick animals with those statistics. While we probably do have a lot of sick animals due to the effects of industrial, for-profit farming practices, these antibiotics are for different purposes. According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, in 1946, researchers at the University of Wisconsin discovered that chickens fed antibiotics grew fatter, faster.
Capitalists whose investments were in food production and those looking for lucrative investment opportunities, realized that if they could get the their commodity to the market quicker, profits and capital accumulation would speed up also.

The antibiotic era has been with us for more than half a century and feeding cattle and other animals these drugs has increased drastically----the profits must be stellar. From 1960 to 1970 the use of these drugs in animal feed increased by 600%.  Data from the pharmaceutical companies themselves revealed that antibiotic sales of animal food was 17.8 million pounds in 1998, 23.7 million in 2000 and 27.8 million in 2007.  That’s a lot of drugs.

As far back as 1972, the FDA warned that feeding the animals we eat could incubate bacteria that is antibiotic resistant, something we are seeing more and more but the pharmaceutical industry “successfully” opposed any regulation of the industry. We all know how they do that.  They bribe the politicians (they call it lobbying) to oppose such legislation.  They argued as the tobacco companies have with regard to nicotine, that there is not enough conclusive evidence.

But as BW says, the World Health Organization and the CDC has determined that feeding antibiotics “to healthy animals plays at least some unquantified role in causing
Resistant infections in humans.”, and there are some two million people that contract antibiotic resistant infections every year leading to 23,000 deaths.

Companies like McDonalds have “promised” to reduce or limit its buying of antibiotic fed animals.  Smithfield Foods, the country’s largest hog producer went even further; it “vowed” to “….prohibit use of medically important antibiotics solely for growth promotion.  I know “vowing” is pretty important as I was taught it in Catholic school.

Despite these promises, nothing has changed as the figures show.  JP Morgan promised to stop financial corruption, BP promised to write good regulations for deep sea drilling.  Promises from the capitalist class mean nothing; only one promise does, they promise to place profits above all else and they keep it.

Apart from the cost to society of repairing environmental damage, human health, and bribery, there is the billions wasted on litigation as the private sector battles with its own state over restrictions on capital that they are forced to raise due to pressure from the consumers groups and unions. Tyson foods for example pledged to curb this practice but continued to use all sorts of little tricks to undermine regulators. It was injecting eggs with antibiotics claiming that this was legitimate as their claim that their chickens were “raised without antibiotics” didn’t include “the days before a chicken hatches.”

The point I want to drum home is the point I always drum home, that is that workers’ powerful and united organization on the job is what will increase safety in any industry and that workers ownership and management of the dominant sectors of production in society will ensure these crises are hugely diminished. The 1% and their media wage a war against such ideas; they raise the old red scare tactic, but this is democratic.  We have no say in how we produce the means of life including food.  Food production is simply a business to the 1%. It is an industry.  I gave an example in the earlier commentary of how I think we should eliminate food factories and democratize food production.

There is a loophole in the present legislation that allows the food factories to use antibiotics if animals are sick. So what do the bosses do?  They find more sick animals.  The CIA promised Afghan warlords that they’d give them $100 a head for terrorists---the 7th century clerics went and found some, lots of them. There is another example of this. When one group of workers managed to win increased family sick from their employers, sick leave that wasn’t subject to monitoring or charges of abuse, they simply called in family sick sometimes when they wanted a break from the workplace for whatever reason. The bosses’ see this and move to stop it.  It’s against their interests.  The same with their use of antibiotics and all the other examples we know about where the 1% places profits before social needs, safety or health.  We have to stop them, it’s in our interests as workers to do so.

It is utopian to think they will legislate profit opportunities away in the interests of safety. If they do, it’s because it will help profits in the long term. This doesn’t mean we should oppose regulatory legislation made under pressure as long as we understand its limits.  My inclination in the present period of globalization and fierce competition is to think that they will not even under pressure that worked in the past, impose curbs on profits and the competitive and anti-social policies that grow them; they can’t afford to.

The class war is not a dream.  They wage it incessantly, day in day out. We must recognize that we are in this war and act accordingly; as Marx once said, when competing social forces with equal rights, the seller of labor power and the buyer of it, meet in society, force decides the outcome.

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