The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture


Friday, January 16, 2004  

WHY I READ THE NATION
Even Nobodies Read It

The Nation’s ad campaign uses the tag line, “Nobody owns The Nation. That’s why so many somebodies read it.” True enough, I suppose, but, ahem, somebody owns it and plenty of nobodies, including me, read it as well. I continue to read and subscribe to the magazine, despite the fact that my persistent jobless condition, one shared by all too many at the moment, has caused me to scale back, dramatically, the number of magazines and journals to which I subscribe, canceling some and not renewing others. Regardless, one magazine I’ve made certain keeps coming is The Nation.

Sure, much of the magazine’s content, along with many additional features, is available at the web site. Not all of it, though. For example, “Mad Cow, Mad Policy,” the lead editorial in the January 26 issue, is not on line. That’s a shame, of sorts, because, while brief, it’s an excellent, even scathing, piece. Still, as it’s only available in print, I’m glad The Nation was spared my newfound thriftiness.

A few excerpts:

When Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and the agribusiness insiders-turned-“regulators” who run [President] George W. Bush’s Agriculture Department finally acknowledged that a case of mad cow disease had been found on a Washington State factory farm, the first order of business was to protect the agribusiness interests that have resisted basic food-safety measures for years. Veneman repeated the tired “nothing to fear” spin that British government aides peddled more than a decade ago, when they were downplaying the significance of the discovery there of bovine spongiform encephalopathy. . . . By studying Britain’s experience, the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration might well have been able to prevent the spread of mad cow disease in the United States. Instead, they created what food-safety activist John Stauber describes as “a testing system that was designed not to find the disease.”[…]

Stauber, co-author of the 1997 book Mad Cow USA, and other critics argue that the disease is more widespread in American herds than the USDA will admit. . . . Like other Bush Administration aides who are charged with protecting public health and safety, Veneman casts her lot with the industries she is supposed to regulate. It was never any secret that her primary “qualification” for the Agriculture Secretary’s job was her closeness to the potent agribusiness interest she served as a lobbyist and advocate of free trade and genetic modification of food.

[T]he danger to the livelihoods of American farmers, and to the lives of American consumers, is now real enough that Veneman cannot be allowed to continue to peddle untruths. Congress must force the USDA to require the testing of all cattle before slaughter and to ban the feeding of slaughterhouse waste to animals that are eaten by human beings. . . . Finally, Congress should provide emergency relief to working farmers and ranchers, who face ruin because of the shameful failure of Ann Veneman and the USDA to maintain the safety -- and, with it, the integrity -- of the U[.]S[.] food supply.

As one who loves beef and who, in fact, ate quite a bit of it last night thanks to the generosity of friends, I would really like to see this issue treated with the urgency it deserves. If the critics are even partly correct, we’re sitting on a ticking time bomb, a potential public-health crisis of the highest order. Even in this Age of Unseriousness, it’s time to get serious about beef.

Odd, isn’t it, that the same crowd of fringistas who some 15 years ago were ready and willing to quarantine or brand some or all gay men in this country aren’t willing to do anything even approaching the same with the nation’s cattle?

[Post-publication addendum (January 18): Of course there are missteps. The February 2 issue is a tad light, noteworthy for little more than “The Myth of the New Anti-Semitism,” by Brian Klug, and including, as it does, the horrific and morally repulsive piece, “We’re Not Sorry, Charlie,” by Jennifer Baumgardner. ([Subscription required.)]

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