Farm & Food File | A syndicated column by Alan Guebert
Early February was not a good time to be an American carnivore.
First, on Saturday, Feb. 8, Rancho Feeding Co. of Petaluma, CA, announced it was recalling 8.7 million pounds of beef carcasses and cuts. That’s virtually every pound of the company’s 2013 throughput.
The reason for the recall, explained the Feb. 11 Los Angeles Times, was that federal regulators “said (the) plant ‘processed diseased and unsound animals’ without a full federal inspection,” making it products “unsound, unwholesome or otherwise… unfit for human food…”
How does the meat from more than 11,500 head of cattle get recalled under that stomach-turning description and not one meat inspector from either California or the U.S. Department of Agriculture know about it until almost every ounce has been sold and consumed?
I don’t know and neither does USDA; its Office of Inspector General, USDA later announced, will investigate the stinking mess and get back to us.
Great; updated plans on how to build a gate now that the cows are gone—again.
News for the Meat Gang didn’t get any better Monday, Feb. 10, when a New York Times front page story carved up an unknown-outside-the-Beltway, no-person non-profit operation named the Employment Policies Institute.
EPI, reported the Times, is an “official-sounding,” mostly opaque arm of Berman and Company, an advertising and public relations firm owned by Richard B. Berman. EPI’s only function, it detailed, is “to shape hot-button political debates” “with the gloss of research.”
Few people in U.S. farming and ranching know of Berman and his preferred business model: non-profit entities like EPI “backed by corporate lobbyists and labor unions,” explained the Times, “with a potential payoff that can be in the millions of dollars for the interests”—never disclosed—“they represent.”
Although his non-profits put on the show, Berman rakes in the dough without disclosing who’s behind the “if not dishonest, at least disingenuous” (“…said John Weaver, a Republican political consultant”) non-lobbying lobbying campaigns.
For example, in his effort to fight any raise to the minimum wage, “Mr. Berman’s for-profit advertising firm ‘bills’ the non-profit institute for services” that, in 2012, brought Berman “$1.1 million… according to its tax returns, or 44 percent of (EPI’s) total budget.”
Sweet racket and all legal, noted the Times.
Why Berman’s self-enriching, bilge-peddling non-profits matter to farmers and ranchers is simple: two of his biggest, most disreputable efforts are loved by farm groups and embraced by ag media—HumaneWatch.org, his red hot, anti-Humane Society of the United States website, and his equally hot PETAKillsAnimals.com.
Both, along with some 20 other, non-profit websites that promote unnamed political interests, hide in a Berman-built shell benignly named the Center for Consumer Freedom. (Two Berman-backed web campaigns attack such uncontroversial topics as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
Almost every major news organization—and even his own son—has published or aired Berman exposes’: “Meet Dr. Evil,” 60 Minutes; a “Washington echo chamber… coveted by industry lobbyists,” NY Times; “…phony non-profit…” Bloomberg; a “company that invents front groups,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch; “…a despicable man, an exploiter, a scoundrel,” PR Watch.
(Links to all are posted at http://farmandfoodfile.com/in-the-news.)
Everything about him, his ethics, tactics and shady use of tax-exempt fronts stink worse than 8.7 million pounds of “unsound, unwholesome” beef that somehow made it through the American marketplace completely undetected last year.
And, yet, he’s the guy Big Ag and Big Meat repeatedly hold up and fund as a friend of American farmers and ranchers because he attacks their—and they say, your—avowed enemies, the Humane Society and PETA.
Indeed, you may view PETA and HSUS as enemies but, rest assured, when you’re recalling millions of pounds of long-gone beef as “unfit for human food” you got far bigger problems than HSUS and PETA.
After all, neither could have dreamed up a better anti-meat campaign than the one that began in California and went undetected for a year.