Editor's Note: We are reprinting a copy of a letter Vegetarians in Paradise editors sent to President George W. Bush expressing our concerns about the safety of the food supply in the United States.
January 17, 2005
President George W. Bush
Dear President Bush,
When Tommy G. Thompson, Secretary of Health and Human Services, resigned in December, he announced his concern about a possible terrorist attack on the nation's food. He said he worried "every single night" about threats to the food supply.
We truly understand why you issued a statement downplaying the warning by your departing cabinet official. You probably did not want to panic the American public.
What you and even Tommy Thompson failed to acknowledge is that our food supply has already been compromised by "homeland terrorists," business and agricultural interests who have already polluted this nation's foods to increase their own profits.
As Pogo said in Walt Kelly's comic strip in 1970, " We have met the enemy, and it is us."
In a Consumer Reports article, "You Are What They Eat" (January 2005), Consumers Union revealed that "we are vulnerable to pathogens, drugs, and contaminants consumed by the animals we eat."
The article reported that to make chickens grow faster and kill microbes, they are given a drug called Roxarsone that contains arsenic. Antibiotics, the drugs of choice to feed to chickens, have led to drug resistance in both chickens and humans. People who become ill because of improper handling and cooking of chicken may find physicians will be unable to cure them with antibiotics because of drug resistance. Meanwhile, legislative efforts to ban the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animal feed have stalled in Congress. We fear that young children today may find their health compromised in later years by the buildup of toxins like arsenic in their systems.
Contamination of fish is another concern. The magazine notes that 80% of the fish sold in this country is imported but only about 2% are tested mainly for drug residues. This testing showed that since 2003 foreign-farmed salmon are reportedly tainted with malachite green, a fungicide not approved for use in fish farming in the United States. The U.S. plans to test domestic and imported catfish for these dangerous residues this year. We pray this testing will be implemented quickly.
In addition to malachite green, other drugs and contaminants are being watched. Chloramphenicol, a carcinogenic antibiotic, not permitted for use in animal food in this country, has been found in shrimp imported to the U.S. Farmed fish raised in crowded situations accumulate toxins from concentrated fish meal and fish oil. They have high levels of PCB's, dioxins, and flame retardants, all likely carcinogens. We can't imagine that you would be serving "healthy" farm-raised salmon to your guests at a White House dinner. Yet, similar polluted farm-raised fish is readily available in American supermarkets and displayed without labeling to help people make informed choices.
The most egregious situation revolves around animals being fed other animals. Former cattleman Howard Lyman brought this practice to the public's attention by telling Oprah Winfrey in 1996 about animals being fed the remains of other animals. When Oprah announced she would never eat another burger, she and Lyman faced a lawsuit by Texas cattlemen for product disparagement. The attention garnered by the suit led to the USDA requirement in 1997 that most protein derived from ruminants be kept out of feed given to other ruminants.
This 1997 requirement was loaded with loopholes. Downed or sick cows that might harbor bovine spongiform encephalopathy or mad cow disease could be fed to chickens, fish, and pigs. The remains of these creatures could then be fed back to cows. Hearing about these feeding methods turns our stomachs and would do the same for other Americans if they knew these practices are common.
The 1997 regulation was supposed to prevent that from happening. In spite of the regulation to keep ruminant feed from ruminants, the beef industry has not made much of an effort to comply, and the FDA still has not effectively eliminated this practice.
In January 2004 the FDA promised two new rules to keep mad cow disease prions out of the food supply. The first rule banned downer cows and animal parts that harbor the highest concentrations of infectious prions from inclusion in human food, dietary supplements, and cosmetics. The second banned ruminant feed from using mammalian blood and blood products, poultry litter, and meat leftovers from restaurants.
The first rule was instituted in July 2004, but the FDA hesitated on the second one. Instead the agency called for public comment on this rule and another proposal to eliminate risky cow parts like cow brains and spinal cords from all animal feed. As of January 2005 the FDA has taken no action to implement these proposals. Hopefully, that steak you throw onto the barbecue in Crawford is not from a BSE infected cow that was not inspected.
Mr. President, it's time the federal government step up to the plate and protect the American public from "domestic terrorists" who have polluted our food supply. Show the people that the administration will take a stand against business interests that engage in practices injurious to public health. Let's give agencies like the FDA the power to act quickly to remove dangerous contaminants from our foods. Let's not allow people to be fed poison for profit.
It's time for the government to act in safeguarding our food and our health by taking the following steps:
In your second term you have an opportunity to leave an enduring legacy. Why not make that legacy a safe and healthy American food supply.