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October 22, 2020

Francis Koster: Unpolluted food for thought

By Francis Koster

I am the oldest of six kids. My father was a very good man, but he was not what you would call “warm and huggy.”

He expected us to pitch in and carry our weight in household chores from about the time the broom was twice as tall as you were. Heaven help you if you didn’t.  

One of his favorite lines was “All behavior has consequences. Good behavior has good consequences; bad behavior has bad consequences.”  When a bad consequence arose, he would often remind me and my brothers and sisters of the behavior that got us to it.

Didn’t do homework? When report cards came around, you were reminded of “All behavior has consequences” Didn’t tie your shoe? Didn’t check your backpack for your lunch? Late for school because you didn’t keep your bicycle tires pumped up? “All behavior has …”  I must confess I heard it a lot.  

I am reminded of this as I think back on my last few opinion columns. The most recent one was how each American eats or drinks about a credit card worth of certain types of plastic each week. In spite of this, the plastic industry is free to keep producing this kind of plastic because they have no legal obligation when they produce it to see that it does not hurt people when disposed of.  

Another column I wrote was about how the average adult American is 28 pounds heavier today than an adult of the same age was in the 1960’s due in part to the impact of unregulated and/or undisclosed chemicals in your food. 

A third recent column was about the fact that our country allows corporations that make vitamins to provide their own quality inspections of their product. All behavior has consequences: independent laboratory tests reveal that 44% of such products do not actually contain what the bottle label says it does. 

Among the world’s richest countries, we rank 35th for average life expectancy – and dropping.

Do you see the connection?  Unregulated corporate behavior has consequences for you and your family.  

One local example of how our national food manufacturing system is causing harm can be found in North Carolina’s pig and chicken industry. North Carolina ranks No. 2 in pork and No. 3 in chicken production factories in America. They are not farms. Called concentrated animal feeding operations, they are entirely indoors. They produce over 10 billion tons of fecal waste every year. This is equal to the fecal output of one-fifth of the entire United States population – every year! Unlike human waste, which flows through a series of regulated sewers to a regulated sewage treatment plant and then into a river, there is no regulations requiring that this animal waste be treated. Instead, with little or no regulation, it is sprayed on fields or put in dumps. 

How did North Carolina become such a national leader in a polluting industry? It turns out that federal regulation is lacking, and there is a large difference between the 50 sets of state regulations controlling industrial scale animal production factories. In other states, the regulations are designed to protect citizens from pollution, but in North Carolina the rules appear to be designed to protect the polluters from citizen scrutiny. For example, It is illegal to fly a drone over a concentrated animal feeding operations.

These companies can keep secret portions of their records of pollution they created and/or released. They are obliged to maintain such records, but the public cannot see them! Even annual inspections by government officials must be scheduled in advance so the factory knows when it will be inspected!

China owns 99% of all pork production in North Carolina. How did we ever get to a legal place where foreign companies can behave in a way that harms the health of our families and the federal and state government help them conceal their actions?  

The average American eats 220 pounds of meat a year. In your own home, you can take steps to make sure you and your entire family do not contribute to this mess. Increase the number of fruits and vegetables on your plate, and cut your meat consumption back to the medical recommendation of 130 pounds a year — 5 ounces once a day — about the size of a deck of cards. 

As is the case with plastic pollution, chemicals in foods and false labeling of vitamins, detecting meat production pollution relies on nonprofits and volunteers, because government agencies have been forbidden by politicians to do it.

What has happened to our country?

Francis Koster lives in Kannapolis and is a local activist who has been studying, teaching and implementing local solutions to national problems for over 50 years.

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