I was explaining to a friend yesterday that the federal government in the form of the U.S. Department of Agriculture continues to allow a multibillion-dollar food corporation to sell product, even after its chicken has been associated with hundreds of illnesses, many caused by pathogens that are resistant to conventional antibiotics. 

He didn’t believe me. “I’m sure the chicken has been recalled,” he said. No, I explained, it hasn’t. Nor has the producer been shut down. 

“Well, something must be going on so the chicken isn’t being sold,” he concluded, hopefully. 

No, nothing. In fact, NBC News, Food Safety News, and others are reporting that the USDA has approved the company’s promise to fix whatever was causing the serious illnesses–no recall or shutdown, or even an apology, required. 

I find this kind of reaction from people I know–generally enlightened people who consider themselves progressive thinkers–pretty typical. When I explain that two-thirds or more of the chicken sold in supermarkets has long been contaminated with salmonella or campylobacter, they shrug. When I express outrage that raw milk and raw milk cheese that hasn’t made anyone sick is sometimes confiscated, discarded into landfills, and the producers closed down amid cries that they be tarred and feathered, these individuals look at me like I am crazy. 

I can tell what they are thinking: The chicken must not be a threat, and the raw dairy products must be a problem. The government scientists must know something that I, in my zealotry, am not telling them. 

The fact that big corporations control the food marketplace and dictate to government officials what is allowed and not allowed has come to be accepted by most people as part and parcel of “the system.” Whatever the excesses of the corrupt relationships, they console themselves, surely the government wouldn’t allow big corporations to sell food that makes people sick. This is the U.S.A., after all, with the world’s most modern food, health and medical systems in the world!

I shouldn’t be so cynical. Ever more people are coming to see through the lies and flocking to local farms for as much of their food as possible.

Besides, it’s not just a matter of corruption. I have come to appreciate that there’s more to the whole story than government officials being bribed by corporations (disguised as campaign contributions). You see, bribes or no bribes, our politicians are loathe to worry about or crack down on such clearly dangerous practices as indiscriminate dispensing of antibiotics to farm animals, and the creation of new resistant pathogens that result.  

The reason? Cheap food. Our rulers can’t acquiesce to the reality that wholesome safe food costs more to produce than the garbage our large corporations churn out. You see, cheap food has turned into one of the greatest panaceas for our rulers since sliced  bread, quite literally. And conversely, privately available food direct from small farms, often more expensive than the factory food because the prices reflect the higher costs of producing a wholesome product, are suspect, and come under official attack. Indeed, the growing popularity of small-farm-produced meat, eggs, and dairy is a reminder to those who run our public health establishment and the big factory farmers that serious reform of our factory system and the mass dispensing of antibiotics and hormones would cost many billions of dollars, and result in higher food prices. That can’t be tolerated. 

Since the end of World War II, when big corporations introduced such “advances” as mass produced pesticides, animal antibiotics, and powerful planting/harvesting/processing equipment, our rulers have become huge fans of the cheap food that resulted. 

Until that time, political rulers everywhere always had to worry that famines, pestilence, or wars, would lead to widespread hunger. Now, at last, they had found the key to keeping people’s stomachs full. They weren’t about to let it go. People with full stomachs, even full with food of questionable quality, are much less likely to pile into the streets and revolt than people with empty stomachs… matter how bad the politicians’ other excesses might become. 

There’s more. Politicians may not understand economics too well, but they do understand that the less people spend on food, the more they have to spend on cars, furniture, and entertainment, thus growing the GNP. 

That is why genetically modified (GMO) food, if it comes through on its promise of improved yields and lower prices, will be welcomed with open arms by our officials, no matter how serious the concerns about long-term safety. If the end result is more low-cost food, bring it on. 

You can be sure of one thing: as more people get sick from new antibiotic-resistant pathogens as well as GMO foods,  our politicians and the scientists who work for them will only be pulled kicking and screaming from their addiction to cheap food.

Now you know why Foster Farms didn’t have to worry even a little that its chicken production line would miss a beat.