By SHARON K. GILBERT
May 12, 2008
ONE WOULD THINK that the very name of the Department of Homeland Security implies that this ever-expanding governmental entity seeks to maintain a safe and secure environment within the border of the country commonly now known as the ‘homeland’.
Part and parcel of this protection mandate, one might assume, would be an all out effort to remove biological threats to highly secure areas, right? Then, why has the Senate now struck a deal with the White House to transfer implicit control of farm-related, biological research from the informed and (one would assume) competent hands of the Agriculture Secretary and into the militarized and non-farming hands of the DHS Chief (bearing in mind that DHS is ultimately under the control of the Big Kahuna, the Director of National Intelligence)?
According to an article from the Associated Press:
House and Senate conferees, negotiating a major farm bill, agreed to the administration’s wishes to place the Homeland Security Department in full control of the transfer, according to two Senate sources who demanded anonymity because conferees were not ready to announce their agreements. [Emphasis Mine]
If true, then the Senate has just traded the safety and future livelihoods of farming communities within the borders of the United States for a quick signature on the dotted line — assuming Bush even signs the farm bill. Ok, let’s be fair — is this farm bill worth it?
USAToday published an article today with a few details of the proposed $300 Billion legislation. One of the bill’s main inclusions is an end to farm subsidies for farmers with adjusted gross incomes over $750,000. Upon first thought, this might sound like a great idea — hey, who wouldn’t want to have an AGI like that? But, if I understand AGI correctly, the number is not the same as net profit. A farmer might easily make hundreds of thousands after selling produce and/or livestock at the market, but you can bet the actual proceeds after paying all the debts for the year are closer to what you and I might make working in a factory — if that farmer is lucky, I mean. Many farmers actually break even or take a loss in any given year. More often than not, the men and women who keep us fed do so out of love for the lifestyle, not because they’re pulling down big dollar profits.
Another inclusion in the ‘farm bill’ is a provision that would require the US to buy food from other countries during international emergencies (I’m still trying to figure that one out). And, the bill would provide conservation money for ‘wetlands’ — sheesh.
Food stamp programs would be increased along with fresh fruits and veggies for school kids. I’m not against either of these, but I’m betting this would actually benefit mega-fruit importers, not US farmers.
Finally, ask yourself this: is this farm bill worth the deal struck in Congress? Notice that Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the ‘top Republican’ in the Ag Committee, is from Georgia (Athens, GA one of the five ‘finalists’ in the running to get the NBAF facility). Of course, that has nothing to do with it, right?
NBAF (the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility) will study foot-and-mouth disease, classical swine fever, African swine fever, and contagious bovine pleuropneumonia. Note that avian flu isn’t listed — but how could they resists, eh? Avian flu is near the top of the DHS list of terrorist events.
The above contagions can easily be spread via water supply, wind, and carried by workers on clothing and shoes. It only takes one mistake to precipitate a major threat to our food supply.
Right now, these diseases are studied on Plum Island, safely away from ‘homeland’ farms and neighborhoods. DHS wants NBAF in our backyards, a breeze away from hundreds of thousands of cattle, pigs, and chickens. In 2005, the state of Region 5/6 Emergency Management Director Bill Pook ran a ‘hoof-and-mouth’ scenario. The results were startling:
Participants, which included those involved in agriculture, law enforcement, firefighters, county officials and veterinarians, were given a scenario where there was an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease in one animal on a farm in northwestern Iowa. That outbreak quickly and easily spread to other places in Iowa, then to Nebraska, Minnesota and South Dakota, eventually affecting 1.2 million animals…
In 2002, the US government looked at a ‘simulated outbreak’:
A simulated outbreak of the disease in 2002 — part of an earlier U.S. government exercise called “Crimson Sky” — ended with fictional riots in the streets after the simulation’s National Guardsmen were ordered to kill tens of millions of farm animals, so many that troops ran out of bullets. In the exercise, the government said it would have been forced to dig a ditch in Kansas 25 miles long to bury carcasses. In the simulation, protests broke out in some cities amid food shortages.
The Plum Island facility has experienced at least one ‘mistake’ in 1978 that resulted in the infection of cattle outside the facility (but contained on the island — so no ‘harm done’). How many more ‘mistakes’ doesn’t the government admit to?
So, as you munch on your burger or slice into that juicy steak this evening, consider how lawmakers in Washington are playing politics with the very food on your plate. Bon appétit!