Bangladesh Disaster: Who Pays the Real Price of Your Shirt?
Seven hundred workers have died in factory fires in Bangladesh since 2005, including the 112 who burned to death or jumped to their deaths at the Tazreen factory on November 24th. Now hundreds more bodies are being pulled from the rubble of the Rana Plaza building, in an industrial district 18 miles from Dhaka.
At Tazreen the owners didn’t build fire escapes. They’d locked the doors on the upper floors “to prevent theft,” trapping workers in the flames.
At Rana Plaza, factory owners refused to evacuate the building after huge cracks appeared in the walls, even after safety engineers told them not to let workers inside.
Workers told IndustriALL union federation representatives they’d be docked three days pay for each day of an absence, and so went inside despite their worries. As a result, the death toll is already over 250 and more are still trapped under debris.
Perhaps the building codes at Rana Plaza were not enforced, and permits never even obtained, because Sohel Rana, the building’s owner, is reportedly active in Bangladesh’s ruling party, the Awami League. At Tazreen the company was cited by fire inspectors, but never forced to install safety equipment.
Bangladesh’s development policy is based on attracting garment production by keeping costs among the world’s lowest. Safe buildings that don’t collapse or trap workers in fires raise those costs. So do wages that might rise above Bangladesh’s 21 cents an hour -- not a livable wage there or anywhere else.
The beneficiaries of those costs are the big brands whose clothes are sewn by the women in those factories. They give production contracts to the factories that make the lowest bids. Factories then compete to cut costs any way they can.
Tazreen made clothes for Wal-Mart, among other big brands. The Rana Plaza building held several factories where 2500 women churned out garments. According to the International Labor Rights Forum, “One of the factories in the Rana complex, Ether-Tex, had listed WalMart-Canada as a buyer on their website.” Labor activists found other documents in the rubble listing cutting orders from Benetton and other labels.
Workers have been trying for years to organize militant unions to raise wages and enforce safety codes. If they’d been successful, they would have had the power to make the factories safe. The morning after the Rana collapse, 20,000 poured out of neighboring factories in protest – other factory owners had ordered them to keep working as though nothing had happened.
Meanwhile, the giant companies controlling the industry insulate themselves from responsibility for the conditions they create. And their most important accomplice is the corporate social responsibility industry.
According to a report just released by the AFL-CIO, Responsibility Outsourced, just before a fire at the Ali Enterprises factory in Pakistan killed 262 workers in 2012, clothing manufacturers hired an auditing firm, Social Accountability International, to certify it was safe. SAI then subcontracted inspection to an Italian firm, RINA, which subcontracted it yet again to a local firm RI&CA. Ali Enterprises was certified that August. “Nearly 300 workers died in a fire two weeks after,” the report charges.
Certifying factories that kill workers has become an $80 billion industry that “helped keep wages low and working conditions poor, [while] it provided public relations cover for producers,” Responsibility Outsourced says. “Manufacturing work has left countries in which there were laws, collective bargaining and other systems in place to reduce workplace dangers,” it says, while “jobs instead have gone to countries with inadequate laws, weak enforcement and precarious employment relationships.”
This transfer was enabled by corporate-friendly trade agreements guaranteeing the products of these factories unfettered access to U.S. and European markets. They simultaneously put pressure on developing countries to guarantee the rights of foreign corporate investors and an environment of low wages, lax enforcement of worker protections, and attacks on unions.
In Bangladesh, after the Tazreen fire, a binding agreement was developed by IndustriALL, the ILRC and other labor NGOs, that seeks to prevent fires and increase safety by guaranteeing workers' right to organize and enforce better conditions. Some companies, including PVH and Tchibo, have signed on. Wal-Mart and Sears, however, not only refused, but would not even pay compensation to the Tazreen fire victims.
As Bangladesh workers pull the bodies of their friends from ruin of Rana Plaza, people half a world away wearing the clothes they sew should not turn their faces away. They need real knowledge about how their shirts and blouses are produced, and who produces them. Rather than the image manipulation of Social Accountability International and its competitor, the Fair Labor Association, they should demand the truth, and then use their power as consumers.
They should drive companies guilty of industrial homicide out of the world’s markets.
Now let's all sing-a-long together like good conservative capitalists...
Unions are always bad. Workers don't need protection ever!
We don't need regulations because they cause us to lose profit!
The markets have to be FREE so we can do whatever we want.
The wealthy are job-creators. Help them and overlook their "mistakes".
Trade is always good. Stuff should be cheap. That's all that matters.
THOSE people should be glad they have a job!!! I don't care about people in Bang...whatever it's called.
Our "safety" company certified everything was okay. So who cares. Shit happens.
Okay, so now maybe we will have to go to another country until this "stuff" blows over. And pay off our friends to avoid prosecution. Piece of cake. But a pain in the ass.
Now, get back to work, dammit!
Anger on streets as Bangladesh building toll passes 300
By Ruma Paul and Serajul Quadir
DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh textile workers vented their anger on Friday, burning cars and clashing with police, as the death toll passed 300 following the collapse of a building housing factories that made low-cost garments for Western brands.
Miraculously rescuers were still pulling people alive from the rubble - 72 since daybreak following 41 found in the same room overnight - two days after the eight-storey building collapsed on the outskirts of the capital, Dhaka.
But there were fears that hundreds of people were still trapped in the wreckage of the building, which officials said had been built illegally without the correct building permits.
"Some people are still alive under the rubble and we are hoping to rescue them," said deputy fire services director Mizanur Rahman.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said she had ordered the arrest of the owners of the building and of the five factories that occupied it.
Army spokesman Shahinur Islam said the death toll had reached 304 and H. T. Imam, an adviser to the prime minister, said it could exceed 350.
Anger over the working conditions of Bangladesh's 3.6 million garment workers, the overwhelming majority of them women, has grown steadily since the disaster, with thousands taking to the streets to protest on Friday.
About 2,350 people have been rescued, at least half of them injured, from the remains of the building in the commercial suburb of Savar, about 30 km (20 miles) from Dhaka.
An industry official has said 3,122 people, most of them female garment workers, had been in the Rana Plaza building despite warnings that it was structurally unsafe.
WRONG PERMIT, ILLEGAL FLOORS
Emdadul Islam, chief engineer of state run Capital Development Authority (CDA), said that the owner of the building had not received the proper building consent, obtaining a permit for a five-storey building from the local municipality, which did not have the authority to grant it.
"Only CDA can give such approval," he said. "We are trying to get the original design from the municipality, but since the concerned official is in hiding we cannot get it readily."
Furthermore, another three storeys had been added illegally, he said. "Savar is not an industrial zone, and for that no factory can be housed in Rana Plaza," Islam told Reuters.
Bangladesh is the second-largest exporter of garments in the world but many factories remained closed for a second day on Friday, with garment workers protesting against poor conditions and demanding the owners of the building and the factories it housed face harsh punishment.
Police and witnesses said protesters set fire to a number of vehicles and damaged other garment factories.
Dhaka District police chief Habibur Rahman identified the owner of the Rana Plaza building as Mohammed Sohel Rana, a leader of the ruling Awami League's youth front.
Imam, the prime minister's adviser, said Rana had "vanished into thin air".
"People are asking for his head, which is quite natural. This time we are not going to spare anybody," Imam said.
STRING OF FATAL INCIDENTS
Wednesday's collapse was the third major industrial incident in five months in Bangladesh. In November, a fire at the Tazreen Fashion factory on the outskirts of Dhaka killed 112 people.
"This incident is devastating for us as we haven't recovered from the shock of Tazreen fire yet," said Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, who visited the site on Friday.
Such incidents have raised serious questions about worker safety and low wages in Bangladesh and could taint the poor South Asian country's reputation as a producer of low-cost products and services.
North American and European chains, including British retailer Primark and Canada's Loblaw, said they were supplied by factories in the Rana Plaza building.
Mohammad Atiqul Islam, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said the proprietors of the five factories inside the building had ignored the association's warning not to open on Wednesday after cracks had been seen in the building the day before.
"We asked not to open the factories and told them we will send our engineer, and until you get the green signal don't open the factories," Islam told Reuters.
"But, unfortunately, they violated our instructions," he said. A bank in the building did close on Wednesday after the warning.
Savar residents and rescuers dropped bottled water and food on Thursday night to people who called out from between floors. Nearby, relatives identified their dead among dozens of corpses wrapped in cloth on the veranda of a school.
Special prayers were offered for the dead, injured and missing at mosques, temples and pagodas across Bangladesh on Friday.
Ten labor groups called for a strike on Sunday by workers at garment factories across the country.
Sixty percent of Bangladesh's garment exports go to Europe. The United States takes 23 percent and Canada takes 5 percent.
Primark and Loblaw, as well as PWT, a Danish company whose Texman brand clothes were also made in factories at Rana Plaza, operate under codes of conduct aimed at ensuring products are made in good working conditions.
The largest factory, New Wave Style, which listed many European and North American retailers as its customers, occupied the sixth and seventh floors, documents seen by Reuters showed.
(Additional reporting by Anis Ahmed in Dhaka, John Chalmers in New Delhi, Jessica Wohl and Nivedita Bhattacharjee in Chicago, Solarina Ho in Toronto, Robert Hertz in Madrid and Mette Kronholm Fraende in Copenhagen; Writing by Paul Tait; Editing by Alex Richardson)
See the related post above and use the link in this post to see a video of the carnage. Would this be more important to you if one of your relatives was CRUSHED?
The death toll is now over 900!
Now over 1100. This is what vicious, money-crazed, corporatists cause when people and their welfare are not important to them.
JUST GET THE MONEY!
7 Dangerous Food Practices Banned in Europe But Just Fine in America.
Want some arsenic with your sandwich?
Last week, the European Commission voted to place a two-year moratorium on most uses of neonicotinoid pesticides, on the suspicion that they're contributing to the global crisis in honeybee health (a topic I've touched on here, here, here, and here). Since then, several people have asked me whether Europe's move might inspire the US Environmental Protection Agency to make a similar move—currently, neonics are widely used in several of our most prevalent crops, including corn, soy, cotton, and wheat.
The answer is no. As I reported recently, an agency press officer told me the EU move will have no bearing on the EPA's own reviews of the pesticides, which aren't scheduled for release until 2016 at the earliest.
All of which got me thinking about other food-related substances and practices that are banned in Europe but green-lighted here. Turns out there are lots. Aren't you glad you don't live under the Old World regulatory jackboot, where the authorities deny people's freedom to quaff atrazine-laced drinking water, etc., etc.? Let me know in comments if I'm missing any.
Why it's a problem: A "potent endocrine disruptor," Syngenta's popular corn herbicide has been linked to a range of reproductive problems at extremely low doses in both amphibiansand humans, and it commonly leaches out of farm fields and into people's drinking water.
What Europe did: Banned it in 2003.
US status: EPA: "Atrazine will begin registration review, EPA's periodic reevaluation program for existing pesticides, in mid-2013."
2. Arsenic in chicken, turkey, and pig feed
Why it's a problem: Arsenic is beloved of industrial-scale livestock producers because it makes animals grow faster and turns their meat a rosy pink. It enters feed in organic form, which isn't harmful to humans. Trouble is, in animals guts, it quickly goes inorganic, and thus becomes poisonous. Several studies, including one by the FDA, have found heightened levels of inorganic arsenic in supermarket chicken, and it also ends up in manure, where it can move into tap water. Fertilizing rice fields with arsenic-laced manure may be partially responsible for heightened arsenic levels in US rice.
What Europe did: According to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, arsenic-based compounds "were never approved as safe for animal feed in the European Union, Japan, and many other countries."
US status: The drug giant Pfizer "voluntarily" stopped marketing the arsenical feed additive Roxarsone back in 2011. But there are still several arsenicals on the market. On May 1, a coalition of enviro groups including the Center for Food Safety, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit demanding that the FDA ban them from feed.
3. "Poultry litter" in cow feed
Why it's a problem: You know how arsenic goes inorganic—and thus poisonous—in chickens' guts? Consider that their arsenic-laced manure is then commonly used as a feed for cows. According to Consumers Union, the stuff "consists primarily of manure, feathers, spilled feed, and bedding material that accumulate on the floors of the buildings that house chickens and turkeys." The "spilled feed" part is of special concern, because chickens are often fed "meat and bone meal from dead cattle," CU reported, and that stuff can spill into the litter and be fed back to cows, raising mad cow disease concerns.
What Europe did: Banned all forms of animal protein, including chicken litter, in cow feed in 2001.
US status: The practice remains unrestricted. US cattle consume about 2 billion pounds of it annually, Consumers Union's Michael Hansen told me last year.
4. Chlorine washes for poultry carcasses
Why it's a problem: As the US chicken industry has sped up kill lines in recent years, it has resorted to heavier use of chlorine-based washes to "decrease microbial loads on carcasses," the Washington Post recently reported, quoting a previously unreleased USDA document. As I've noted, the USDA is preparing to release new rules that would speed up kill lines still more as well as allow companies to douse every carcass that comes down the line with antimicrobial sprays, "whether they are contaminated or not." According to the Post, poultry workers face a "range of ailments" to the practice, including "asthma and other severe respiratory problems, burns, rashes, irritated eyes, and sinus ulcers and other sinus problems."
What Europe did: The EU not only bans the practice, but refuses to accept US poultry that has been treated with antimicrobial sprays.
US status: As stated above, the USDA is preparing to roll out new rules that will increase the practice.
5. Antibiotics as growth promoters on livestock farms
Why they're a problem: Antibiotic use has surged on US animal farms in recent years—and now accounts for 80 percent of all antibiotic use. Meanwhile, meat sold in US supermarkets is rife with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
What Europe did: In the EU, all antibiotics used in human medicines are banned on farms—and no antibiotics can be used on farms for "nonmedical purposes," i.e., growth promotion.
US status: The FDA is floating new rules that would ban antibiotics as growth promoters—but the regulation would be voluntary.
6. Ractopomine and other pharmaceutical growth enhancers in animal feed
Why it's a problem: Fed to an estimated 60 to 80 percent of US hogs, ractopomine makes animals grow fast while also staying lean. Unfortunately, it does so by mimicking stress hormones, making animals miserable. The excellent food safety reporter Helena Bottemiller looked at FDA documents and found that between its introduction in 1999 and 2011, the drug had killed 210,000 pigs—"more than any other animal drug on the market." Pigs treated with it, she found, suffer from ailments ranging from hyperactivity and trembling to broken limbs and the inability to walk. (Beef cows are fed similar drugs, as are turkeys.) Traces of these pharmaceuticals routinely end up in our meat—and according to Bottemiller, their effects on humans are little-studied.
What Europe did: Europe not only bars its own producers from using ractopamine, it also refuses to allow imports of meat from animals treated with it—as do China and Russia.
US status: Rather than trying to rein in ractopamine use, the Obama administration is actively seeking to force Europe and other nations to accept our ractopamine-treated pork.
7. Gestation crates
Why it's a problem: The sows that breed the hogs confined in US factory farms spend nearly their entire lives stuffed into crates "so small the animals can't even turn around or take more than a step forward or backward," the Humane Society of the United States reported. An undercover HSUS investigation of a sow facility run by pork giant Smithfield in 2010 found, among other horrors, this:
The animals engaged in stereotypic behaviors such as biting the bars of crates, indicating poor well-being in the extreme confinement conditions. Some had bitten their bars so incessantly that blood from their mouths coated the fronts of their crates. The breeding pigs also suffered injuries from sharp crate protrusions and open pressure sores that developed from their unyielding confinement.
What Europe did: Banned them, effective this year.
US status: Pork giants Smithfield, Cargill, and Hormel have pledged to phase them out; several fast-food chains including McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, and Subway have promised to stop buying from suppliers who use the crates; and nine states have banned the practice, HSUS reported. But the practice remains widespread, and as industry flack Rick Berman recently put it, a large swath of the pork industry "has no plans to stop using standard sow housing."
There are many links in the original essay for substantial additional information. I encourage you to read more.
As I have said before these and other practices by this grotesquely greedy and inhumane industry must be stopped. Any activity to increase profit regardless of the cruelty to the animals and the danger to us who consume them is okay with this "business". Apparently, the Europeans care more about the animals and their citizens than our corporate criminals.
Without pressure from outside the industry these practices would only get worse. Self-regulation in the "free market" has always been a myth used by corporations to avoid any infringement of their practices. Check the condition of the Gulf and sea life since BP "fixed" it and compare that to their public comments about how everything is back to normal.
GREED IS ALL THAT MATTERS!
Metal Shards and Much Worse In Your Food? What Happens When the Food Industry Regulates Itself
In a move that may prove deadly for workers and consumers, the federal government is washing its hands of slaughterhouse inspection and encouraging industry self-regulation.
Was Jose Navarro, a federal poultry inspector who died two years ago at the age of 37, a victim of increasingly noxious chemicals used in poultry and meat production? Chemicals like ammonia, chlorine and peracetic acid that are frequently employed to kill aggressive bacteria in meat and poultry?
Navarro coughed up blood several months before his death, the Washington Post reported last week, and he died in November 2011 of lung and kidney failure, according to the autopsy report. An OSHA inspector during a subsequent investigation said “the combination of disinfectants and other chemicals” in addition to pathogens such as salmonella “could be causing significant health problems for processing-plant occupants,” reports the Post. The plant where Navarro worked and the chicken industry defend the chemicals as safe.
It is no secret that new methods are being used in the war against bacteria because of the antibiotic resistance the meat industry's widespread reliance on antibiotics has helped cause. Antibiotics save money for livestock operations in two ways: they keep the animals alive in filthy, packed conditions in which they might otherwise die; and they make animals gain weight with less food because of their metabolic effects.
Despite the routine use of antibiotics in livestock operations, bacteria and resistant bacteria are rampant in the food supply. Almost half of US beef, chicken, pork and turkey contained staph bacteria when they were tested, reported the Los Angeles Times in 2011--including the resistant MRSA bacterium (methicillin-resistant S. aureus). Two serious strains of antibiotic-resistant salmonella, Salmonella Heidelberg and Salmonella Hadar, forced recalls in recent years of turkey products from Jennie-O Turkey and Cargill. The resistant salmonella strains were so deadly, officials warned that disposed meat should be placed in sealed garbage cans to protect wildlife.
But there is another reason that stronger and more volatile chemicals are being used. The federal government is increasingly washing its hands, pun intended, of slaughterhouse inspection and encouraging industry "self-regulation," which is cheaper for both sides. Thanks to the new era of food industry laissez-faire, assembly lines are moving even more quickly--if that's possible--and more aggressive chemicals are being employed. "Pink Slime" treated with puffs of ammonia to kill E. coli, was only one example of extreme chemicals routinely used to kill germs, often under the public's radar.
There is also an ongoing battle between US trade officials and the European Union and Russia over US poultry because it is dipped in chlorine bleach to kill germs. Who knew? And conventional US poultry is often grown on feed that contains arsenic, which the FDA says is used to control parasites, promote weight gain and feed efficiency and improve “pigmentation.” In 2011, Pﬁzer announced it would stop selling arsenic-treated chicken feed after the FDA found residues in chicken livers and most people assumed the substance had been retired from poultry farms. Guess again. Histostat, or nitarsone, another arsenic-based feed additive, is still on the market, reports the New York Times.
Inspectors Add Their Voices To Agribusiness Critics
Over the years, reports about the deleterious effects of self-regulating agribusinesses on animals, workers, the environment and consumers who eat the products have made headlines. But increasingly, federal meat inspectors are speaking out about the broken system.
“My plant in Pennsylvania processed 1,800 cows a day, 220 per hour,” and veterinarians were pressured “to look the other way” when violations happened," Lester Friedlander, a federal meat inspector told the Winnipeg Free Press. The reason? Stopping "the line" cost the plant about $5,000 a minute. Friedlander was a USDA veterinarian for 10 years and trained other federal veterinarians.
When mad cow disease was first a US threat in 1991, Friedlander says a USDA ofﬁcial told him not to say anything if he ever discovered a case and said he knew of cows who had tested positive at private laboratories but were ruled negative by the USDA. Friedlander told United Press International that the USDA attempted to force him out after he alleged, on national TV, that meat from downer cows supplied the national school lunch program. His charge proved true, and led to the biggest meat recall in US history.
National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals, the union that represents meat and poultry inspectors in federally regulated slaughterhouses, also spoke out about mad cow disease risks. In a letter to the USDA in 2004, the union said that cattle parts that could give humans the disease were “being allowed into the production chain.” Heads and carcasses of cattle over 30 months old sailed through slaughter and processing lines, said the whistle-blowing inspectors. “We couldn’t determine that every part out of there was from a cow under 30 months,” said Stan Painter, the union’s chairman, to MSNBC. “There was no way to determine which one was which.” Inspectors were “told not to intervene” when kidneys from older animals were sent down the line to be packed for the Mexican market, which prohibited cows over 30 months, the union charged. Cows younger than 30 months were considered to pose less mad cow disease risk to humans.
Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspectors in the Department of Agriculture have traditionally been responsible for a plant’s compliance with the Federal Meat Inspection Act (or Poultry Products Inspection Act or the Egg Products Inspection Acts) and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act but the balance of power is switching to self-regulation. A turning point was the implementation of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) inspection system in 2000 which replaced inspectors' visual examination of carcasses with inspectors simply ratifying that companies are following their own self-created systems--as in "trust me."
The HACCP system was developed by former Monsanto lobbyist Michael Taylor, which is no surprise in light of his pro-industry initiatives while working at the government. Taylor facilitated the approval of unlabeled GMO crops and recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), both spearheaded by Monsanto, and has even lobbied against the Delaney Clause, which prohibits cancer-causing chemicals in food.
Food activists, animal activists, consumers and even industry insiders called HACCP "Have a Cup of Coffee and Pray" and an unvarnished a gift to industry. It's a “politically based policy masquerading as a science-based measure” that privatizes the meat inspection process for large plants while regulating smaller plants out of business. It allows contaminated meat to leave the plant with “smaller downstream processors . . .left accountable for problems caused by the original slaughterhouses,” writes Nicole Johnson.
Soon after HACCP was implemented, a study by the Government Accountability Project and Public Citizen found that 62 percent of inspectors surveyed allowed contamination like feces, vomit and metal shards in food under HACCP on a daily or weekly basis, which had never happened before. Almost 20 percent of inspectors said they’d been instructed not to document violations. In fact, a full 80 percent of 451 inspectors surveyed said that HACCP attenuated their ability to enforce the law and the public’s right to know about food safety.
Another federal meat inspector who spoke out about the broken system was veterinarian Dean Wyatt. The Food Safety and Inspection Service supervisory public health veterinarian from Williston, VT testified at congressional hearings in 2010 about federal inspectors' shocking lack of authority in slaughter plants. Plant managers openly defied the federal inspectors he said, and workers followed suit, actually ridiculing them.
Both Wyatt and public health veterinarian Deena Gregory reported that they witnessed a Seaboard employee hit an, "animal hard in the face and nose 8-12 times," but David Ganzel, the District Veterinary Medical Specialist, deemed the acts was not "egregious," hence not a violation, said Wyatt in his congressional testimony. Seaboard employees began to snicker when Wyatt walked past.
Food Safety and Inspection Service officials overtly served plant managers not the government, food consumers, employees or the animals. Wyatt was instructed not to file violation reports--not to do his job--and official reports were sanitized and deleted. In one report of an employee abusively throwing an animal, the word “threw” was changed to “dropped” he testified.
Shortly after testifying to Congress in 2010, Dean Wyatt died of brain cancer at the age of 59. He was a second-generation federal meat inspector and told Congress that, “Public service is in my blood.” His father died in the “line of duty,” he said, contracting a lethal pathogen at a turkey slaughter plant he inspected
These horrible reports never stop and have affected my diet, my passions and priorities.
Incidentally, self-regulation has never worked and will never work. It is a myth and used by vicious greedy liars to avoid any scrutiny of their "business practices".
Crap, I almost forgot the operative slogan...'always do it cheaper, and cheaper, and cheaper, and cheaper. FK the consequences'.
Remember, Profit Uber Alles in the "United Corporate States of America".
Ractopamine: The Meat Additive on Your Plate That's Banned Almost Everywhere But America
The asthma drug-like growth additive has enjoyed stealth use in the US food supply for a decade despite being widely banned overseas.
October 30, 2013 Alternet by Martha Rosenberg
Have you ever heard of ractopamine? Neither have most US food consumers though it is used in 80 percent of US pig and cattle operations. The asthma drug-like growth additive, called a beta-agonist, has enjoyed stealth use in the US food supply for a decade despite being widely banned overseas. It is marketed as Paylean for pigs, Optaflexx for cattle and Topmax for turkeys.
This month, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) have sued the FDA for withholding records pertaining to ractopamine's safety. According to the lawsuit, in response to the groups' requests for information "documenting, analyzing, or otherwise discussing the physiological, psychological, and/or behavioral effects" of ractopamine, the FDA has only produced 464 pages out of 100,000 pages that exist. Worse, all 464 pages have already been released as part of a reporter's FOIA. Thanks for nothing.
CFS and ALDF have spent over 18 months meeting with the FDA and seeking information about the effects of ractopamine on "target animal or human liver form and function, kidney form and function, thyroid form and function" as well as urethral and prostate effects and "tumor development." The lawsuit says the CFS has "exhausted administrative remedies" and that the FDA has "unlawfully withheld" the materials.
Ractopamine's effects on animals are documented, say the groups, but effects on humans remain a mystery. Codex, the UN food standards body, established ractopamine safety residues on the basis of only one human study of six people and one subject dropped out because of adverse effects! "Data from the European Food Safety Authority indicates that ractopamine causes elevated heart rates and heart-pounding sensations in humans," says CFS.
In an early Canadian study, monkeys given ractopamine "developed daily tachycardia"-- rapid heart beat. Rats fed ractopamine developed a constellation of birth defects like cleft palate, protruding tongue, short limbs, missing digits, open eyelids and enlarged heart.
Two cousin drugs of ractopamine, clenbuterol and zilpaterol, cause such adrenalin effects in humans they are banned by the Olympics. Cyclist Alberto Contador failed a Tour de France anti-doping test in 2010 for levels of clenbuterol which he said he got from eating meat. Clenbuterol has been banned or restricted in meat after human toxicities. "The use of highly active beta-agonists as growth promoters is not appropriate because of the potential hazard for human and animal health," wrote the journal Talanta.
Certainly the ractopamine label puts no one at ease. "WARNING: The active ingredient in Topmax, ractopamine hydrochloride, is a beta-adrenergic agonist. Individuals with cardiovascular disease should exercise special caution to avoid exposure," says the label for the turkey feed. "Not for use in humans. Keep out of the reach of children. The Topmax 9 formulation (Type A Medicated Article) poses a low dust potential under usual conditions of handling and mixing. When mixing and handling Topmax, use protective clothing, impervious gloves, protective eye wear, and a NIOSH-approved dust mask. Operators should wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling. If accidental eye contact occurs, immediately rinse eyes thoroughly with water. If irritation persists, seek medical attention. The material safety data sheet contains more detailed occupational safety information. To report adverse effects, access medical information, or obtain additional product information, call 1-800-428-4441." This is used in food production?
Ractopamine is banned in the EU, Russia, China, Taiwan and many other countries. In 2007, China seized shipments of US meat and charged that frozen ribs, pig ears and sausage casing contained ractopamine. This year, when the US refused to comply with ractopamine-free certification, Russia closed its market to US beef, pork and turkey.
The US calls anti-ractopamine restrictions unscientific and unwarranted while its balking partners call the use of ractopamine unscientific and unwarranted. "China says it’s worried about the higher levels of drug residues that can be found in pig organs, which are part of a traditional Chinese diet, and Russia claims the drug could pose health risks," reports Food Safety News.
In 2007 more than 3,500 pig farmers in Taiwan rioted because of rumor that a ractopamine ban would be lifted. Demonstrators, some carrying pigs, threw rotten eggs and dung at people and buildings chanting, "Get out, USA pork" and "We refuse to eat pork that contains poisonous ractopamine," reported Taiwan News. After Hou Sheng-Mou, the department of health minister, assured the crowd the ban was still in place and touched a piglet, for unclear reasons, the crowd left.
Last year, the riots were repeated replete with eggs and dung when newly re-elected President Ma Ying-jeou reversed the 2007 assurances and proposed that the ractopamine ban be lifted with products labeled accordingly. Taiwan hog farmers fear "lifting the ban could spark widespread health concerns that would affect consumption of other meat products, undermining their livelihoods," reported the Associated Press.
The sale of Smithfield foods to Shuanghui International this year, China's biggest takeover of a US company, also has implications for ractopamine. Smithfield is converting it hog plants to "ractopamine-free" animals and announced that by last June its operations would be 50 percent ractopamine-free to please the Chinese markets. (Shuanghui is not guilt-free when it comes to beta-agonists--it was forced to recall its Shineway brand meat products because of clenbuterol fears.)
Penny Wise and Pound Cruel
Why is ractopamine fed to animals? Why are antibiotics, hormones and arsenic fed to animals in the US? Ractopamine is a growth enhancer and livestock operations make more money with less feed.
Optaflexx "served up 17 lbs. more live weight, 14 lbs. more carcass weight, 0.3 sq. in. more ribeye area, and 0.3% more dressing percent when fed according to label directions," extolled Beef magazine said in 2005. Ractopamine wasn't implemented until cattle growers were assured that it "wouldn't dilute quality grades" and didn't cause "altered animal behavior," assured the magazine.
Both assurances were premature. Ractopamine has caused more harm to pigs than any other drug. FDA reports link it to a startling string of conditions in cattle and pigs like respiratory disorders, hoof disorders, bloat, abnormal lameness and leg disorders, hyperactivity, stiffness, aggression, stress, recumbency (inability to get up) and death. Even the animal expert Temple Grandin has spoken out. "I've personally seen people overuse the drug in hogs and cattle," she said and "the pigs were so weak they couldn't walk." Ractopamine causes such hoof damage, hooves have actually fallen off reports Countryside magazine--a phenomenon Grandin reports with the similar drug zilpateral (Zilmax).
And meat quality? Turkey meat produced with ractopamine has "alterations" in muscle such as a "mononuclear cell infiltrate and myofiber degeneration," say a 2008 new drug application from Elanco, ractopamine's manufacturer. There was "an increase in the incidence of cysts," and differences, some "significant," in the weight of organs like hearts, kidneys and livers. ("Enlarged hearts" had been in rats in the Canadian studies.) Happy Thanksgiving.
When a food additive no one knew they were eating comes under scientific scrutiny, Big Food and Big Pharma create an It's Innocuous fact sheet. Meat turns brown just like an apple says a fact sheet from the American Meat Institute defending the use of carbon monoxide to keep meat red. “People would be more likely to die from a bee sting than for their antibiotic treatment to fail because of macrolide-resistant bacteria in meat or poultry," says a brochure from the Animal Health Institute defending antibiotics in meat.
Ractopamine is similarly neutralized by the National Pork Board. It "helps pigs make the most of the food they eat [thanks, guys!] by promoting the conversion of dietary nutrients into lean muscle, which helps produce a leaner meat product" and working "in the same way that human health supplements do."
Ractopamine is also "green" says Colleen Parr Dekker, a spokesperson for Elanco . Moving away from beta-agonists would increase corn demand and environmental impacts since the animals would need to eat more to produce the same amount of meat!
Global AgriTrends, an industry group agrees. If beef and pork producers dropped beta-agonists like ractopamine, 91 million more bushels of corn would be necessary! The green spin is reminiscent of the National Turkey Federation's Michael Rybolt testimony that antibiotics are green on Capitol Hill. Without antibiotics, more land would be needed to grow crops to feed turkeys and more housing would be necessary because the birds could not be squeezed together, he said. There would even be "an increase in manure," he threatened.
We're Eating What?
If the Center for Food Safety and Animal Legal Defense Fund are successful in prying 100,000 pages of safety information about ractopamine loose from the FDA, there will probably being a collective, national "yuck" sound. But meat producers may see the writing on the wall before that happens. A beef industry conference in Denver in August included a pro-and-con discussion of the drugs with a video depicting distressed cows struggling to walk shown by meat giant JBS USA. On the same day, in an apparently unrelated event, Tyson Foods Inc announced it would no longer accept cattle fed the ractopamine cousin zilpateral because of cattle that had "trouble moving after being delivered."
Maybe ractopamine will eventually be phased out like lead in gasoline or rBGH in milk and for similar reasons. But, meanwhile, don't count on Smithfield's ractopamine-free initiative benefiting the US like it will China. “Americans aren't getting the ractopamine-free pork,” Elisabeth Holmes, a staff attorney for the Center for Food Safety, revealed.
Yes folks, this thread's title is accurate. This is The United Corporate States of America, aided and abetted by the government, which in reality, almost always does what business wants. And when they don't, which is rare, they only enforce rules because they have no choice - too much publicity.
The food we buy can be dangerous to our health. Have you ever seen a company admit they have done something wrong, stop it and make any amends that they can voluntarily? Neither have I.
This thread contains other similar articles of disgusting corporate activities. Yes, there are companies that are not criminals. But it is important to know about the ones that are - and to do something about it if you can.