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Pork: The Government's Other White Meat

Mises Daily: Tuesday, January 08, 2013 by

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Years ago I began to cease eating pork because I came to despise it, but at the time, I didn't really know why that was the case.

I was turned off by the dry, white, crumbly texture and the inability to cook most pork cuts—with the exception of some ribs or roasts—in such a manner that I could retain the moisture and integrity of taste. The boneless, center-cut pork chops, that were considered to be prime cuts, had become unpalatable.

Most of us have grown up with the old adage, “You have to cook your pork well done or it will make you sick.” Accordingly, growing up eating inherently dry, overcooked, rubberized, white pork brought me much agony as a child. It wasn’t until I was well into my adult years that I discovered that pork was really red, and not white. It was then that I began to understand the depth of the political ploys that had turned traditional pork on its ear in favor of factory-farmed white meat. This “white” meat had become representative of Big Agriculture farming interests and the federalized dietary guidelines that are the result of the politicization of food and nutrition.

Pork, PACs, and Politics

The story of pork’s decline involves the usual suspects: mounting government intervention, political mandates, special interest lobbying arms, redistribution of income, and the federal government’s 30+ years of war on dietary fat.

The pork arm of the government, the National Pork Board, was established in 1985 under the terms of the Pork Act, with the fluff name being the Pork Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act of 1985. The activities of this organization are funded by a mandatory “checkoff” program that forces pork farmers to pay into a fund each time an animal is sold.

The USDA maintains oversight for this program, as well as similar programs in other industries. And while the U.S. congressional body has permitted these forcibly applied taxes to fund mega-marketing budgets in the various food industries, there have been numerous legal challenges to mandatory checkoffs over the years, including within the mushroom, beef, grape, and pork industries.

The beef industry has witnessed varied legal rulings concerning the government tax levied on beef producers to pay for the epic “Beef: It’s What’s For Dinner” campaign that began in 1992. In 2003, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld a South Dakota District Court decision that ruled that the mandatory beef checkoff program, like a similar program in the mushroom industry, was “compelled speech” and thus the program was declared unconstitutional. In 2005, this decision was overturned by the Supreme Court with Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, claiming that “government speech” was at issue in this case, and thus was not subject to challenge under the First Amendment.

Though nonconformist cattle ranchers wanted an opt-out for the tax, the Court ruled, with a 6-3 majority, that producers being forced to pay for the funding of government speech do not raise First Amendment concerns. According to the First Amendment Center, Scalia defended the forced levies by writing:

Citizens may challenge compelled support of private speech, but have no First Amendment right not to fund government speech. That is no less true when the funding is achieved through targeted assessments devoted exclusively to the program to which the assessed citizens object.[1]

Likewise, prior to the Supreme Court ruling on the beef checkoff, the pork checkoff had been declared unconstitutional in a federal district court with the decision being affirmed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The propaganda supporting the levies puts on a spin to give the appearance of benefits for those who are fleeced in order to fund campaigns they don’t want to support. In the fall 2012 issue of Pork Checkoff Report, an article reviewing an econometrics-based self-evaluation of the pork checkoff program claimed that producers “get back $17.40 of value for every $1 they invest in the pork checkoff.” While these taxes on the pork producers produce in excess of $50 million in booty per year, the subsequent expenditures benefit the largest and most industrialized factory farm machinations, including the giants Smithfield and Tyson.

Back in 2000, the Agriculture Department held a referendum where pork producers voted to terminate the mandatory checkoff program, and this was in spite of millions being poured into the campaign by the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) to maintain the status quo. In mid-January 2001, Dan Glickman, who was the Secretary of Agriculture, released the voting results and he prepared the USDA to move forward with termination of the checkoff program. Immediately, the NPPC and large-industrial pork producers from Michigan successfully applied for a temporary restraining order to halt the USDA elimination of the plunder program.

Then came Ann Veneman, a Bush appointee from Big Agra with her feet firmly planted in the biotech corporatocracy, who took over as Secretary of Agriculture on January 20th 2001. Immediately, she overturned the results of the referendum, citing a voting technicality. And this is in spite of the fact that both the General Accounting Office and Office of Inspector General had already concluded that Dan Glickman had acted within his statutory authority for holding the referendum, and that the proper voting controls were in place for the referendum.

Most recently, Veneman trots the globe fighting the war on obesity for global organizations and big government while maintaining posts as a Nestle board member and a Director at Alexion Pharmaceuticals.

Additionally, the National Pork Board is supported by its underling and foremost political arm, the National Pork Producers Council. The NPPC has a very powerful political lobby, PorkPAC, that, according to its website, “educates and supports candidates at the state and federal levels who support the U.S. pork industry.” In other words, the NPPC uses its monetary influence to drive legislation, regulation, and other political initiatives through its system of buying the favors of politicians to empower and enrich its industry benefactors.

The CAFO Calamity

The CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Organization) concept is an industrial concept. During the 1970s and 1980s, cattle and pigs began to come predominantly from the CAFO system. That time period saw the shift from the family farm to large industrial factory farming.

The confinement model aims at economies of scale—that is, the highest output at the lowest cost. In the meat industry, this model sacrifices food quality and raises ethical concerns in order to maintain desired profit margins. Those who decline to explore the facts of food politics still believe that the mega-industrial food machine is the epitome of the free market. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the United States as well as Europe, there are billions of dollars spent per year in government subsidies to support this model of animal agriculture.

First, the government subsidies artificially lower the cost of feed that saves the industry billions per year. This allows for a large reduction in operating costs. The competitors of these industrial-factory farms are those farmers who choose to farm their animals in diversified, pasture-based systems where they produce their own forage, and without government subsidies.

Additionally, farm bills come with massive incentives to influence investment in the industrial-factory farming system, and this spurs artificial growth. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a mandatory spending program, doles out financial and technical assistance for agriculture conservation. It’s actually a welfare program for CAFOs because these large-scale operations leave behind a massive trail of environmental and biological destruction: soil erosion and sedimentation, polluted watersheds, and manure and wastewater issues. This impacts the air, water, and land quality. There are also public health consequences from the routine administration of antibiotics that is necessary to keep animals alive within an intensely confined area.

The government contributes to the cost of conservation practices to clean up the mess to sustain profit margins in the industry and keep the industrial farms operable. An EQIP contract can pay up to 90 percent of the costs for planning, design, capital, labor, maintenance, and training for conservation projects. This program was funded to the tune of $1.75 billion for fiscal year 2012. The subsidies are just one reason why this industrial agricultural model has been called unsustainable.

Government policy has created CAFOs, and many years of supplementary government policies serves to maintain their existence. If the industrial-factory model farmers were left to clean up their own mess to sustain operations and pay their own costs, the industry model would be unprofitable. Instead, these streams of subsidies enable low-cost industrial food and healthy profit margins, and this is what the pasture-based farmers are up against.

Why White?

While the CAFO system was up and running in high gear, the aggressive marketing campaign titled “Pork. The Other White Meat” made its debut in 1987. This campaign focused on presenting pork as an alternative “lean protein” to help eradicate the public perception of pork as a high-fat meat. Dietary fat had become synonymous with “unhealthy” as varied pop studies were trotted out by the medical establishment linking dietary fat to cardiovascular disease. According to a page from the National Pork Board website, this campaign was aggressively aimed at consumers with the goal being “to increase consumer demand for pork and to dispel pork’s reputation as a fatty protein.” Accordingly, industrial pork became the politically correct alternative to chicken and turkey, neither of which were demonized by the government’s intensifying war on fat.

However, the government’s food pyramid was not founded on science, but rather, it was based in politics and serving special interests. The food pyramid is a purely political animal developed by politicians to serve political ends. It was Senator George McGovern and his Select Senate Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs that gave us these politicized and destructive federal dietary guidelines.

The food politics of the Committee were set in motion as McGovern’s Dietary Goals for the United States were hammered out at the hands of federal politicians and a journalist who wrote the final draft. The guidelines were heavily influenced by lobbying from the food industry foot soldiers who vilified animal fat and won, in spite of the numerous, highly qualified scientists who debunked their political agenda with the power of science. The Dietary Goals for the United States (The McGovern Report) were issued in 1977, leading to the 1980 publication of Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, first edition.

Since that time, the government has had a non-scientific lock on dietary-nutritional central planning. The nutrition central planning model has held steadfast on the notion that dietary fat is the enemy, and thus planted the seeds for the low-fat revolution.

As a response to the low-fat craze, the pork industry began utilizing new feeding and breeding techniques. Essentially, the animals have been genetically altered to produce a white, lean, dry meat product to adapt to the political-nutritional health models that were sweeping the mainstream media and consumer consciousness. The pork industry’s website admits to claims that:

Today's pork has 16% less fat and 27% less saturated fat as compared to 1991. Many cuts of pork are now as lean as skinless chicken.

Additionally, the same website page notes that this new pork meets the government’s “guidelines” to earn a declaration of “lean.” The new “lean” meat is produced not only through the production of a leaner animal with reduced fat, but also a reduction of intramuscle fat that cannot be trimmed.

Consequently, modern pork is artificially pale and unexciting, hence the “white” designation. The use of the term “white meat” is a misnomer, however, because the traditional definition of red meat is a meat product that is derived from a mammal, whereas white meat has been defined as being derived from a fowl. A pig is a mammal. Generally, pig meat does produce less saturated fat than that from ruminants such as cows, which have four-compartment stomachs as opposed to the one stomach of a pig.

Still, real pork—that which hasn’t been modified by scientific modifications conforming to political dictates—is red, not white. When these animals are raised within the boundaries of natural farming practices that include rotational grazing, grass-based animal husbandry, and humane handling, the meat takes on a sharp, appealing, red color. The following is a snippet from the website of Melo Farms of Yale, Michigan, where the proprietors raise Berkshire heritage pigs in a natural environment as an alternative to the industrial CAFO system.

Our pigs are life-lived animals that enjoy pastured land every day. This gives our herd the luxury of playful socialization with each other rather than the isolation of the single-stall pen system favored by the pork industry. Our pigs roam our pasture, run and romp in the field, nestle with each other when sleeping, and move like an army of mini-hippos to play in favorite dig holes. They have a shaded nest in the pasture, free-running clean water, and protection from predators. Their bodies bear no signs of crowding stress such as ear or tail bites. What we don’t have are wire floors, single occupancy stations, or a manure lagoon. Our Berkshire hogs are calm and playful and, of course, full of personality!

Amazingly, it wasn’t until 2011 that the USDA revised its cooking guidelines for pork, bringing the guidelines more in line with beef and lamb. Prior to the guideline revisions, food scaremongering techniques had put medium or medium-rare pork in the “unsafe” category, even though it was never disclosed that the hazards of the industrial feedlot system were behind the impetus to keep higher standards for cooking pork. However, chefs and knowledgeable layman who have been cooking and eating pasture-based pork have long been preparing safe pork dishes with the meat in a medium rare state. Meat produced from the pasture-based model is lacking many or all of the risks posed by the industrial model that is rife with safety concerns and is therefore heavily regulated.

Yet the USDA claims that the revision was due to improved methodology in animal feeding and housing, in spite of the fact that the industrial CAFO model is under more scrutiny than ever for its use of intense confinement, pesticides, steroids, hormones, antibiotics, and other unnatural agents.

In early 2011, the National Pork Board announced that it was replacing the “Other White Meat” slogan with a new mantra to fit with the times: “Pork: Be Inspired.” The pork central planners believe that after twenty-five years of white meat spin they have completed their mission of constructing the “new chicken” for the health conscious, and thus they will take the pork propaganda in a new direction in an attempt to increase consumer consumption of its product. In fact, it’s the same old parched, industrial, white meat with a newfangled promotional spin.