Tinfoil hat time.
Agricultural concerns get a lot less attention than energy concerns because the agricultural system is:
B) Running over capacity
C) Subject to more visible disruptions
D) Refined to favor multinationals.
You can throw rocks at BP. BP can take it. You throw rocks at agribusiness and the whole thing unravels. Point by point:
USDA enforcement is ragged edge at the best of times. The enforcement tools are utterly inappropriate to the task at hand. Unsafe workplace? That'll be $120k in fines. Selling unpasteurized milk? That's a swat team:
30 people dead from a Listeria outbreak?
6 months home confinement.
Re-jigger that. We've got SWAT teams insisting that milk be made in OSHA factories so that an FDA-inspected farm can kill 30 people. It pretty much demonstrates that our current food safety guidelines don't really scale to anything smaller than a Tyson plant.
Meanwhile, we've created a system where one cantaloupe farm caused 146 cases of listeria poisoning in 28 states. I stopped eating ground meat when I read in The End of Food that the average hamburger patty is made up from 55 cows, sometimes over a thousand. I was in England during their last big TSE scare; it doesn't take much. Meanwhile, I see raids in the news of bathtub cheese all the time, but who actually causes a food safety scare?
Because we live in the land of the 3000-mile Caesar salad. I remember the tylenol killer. that shit gripped the nation for weeks and it was just some psycho fucking with pill bottles (that's why you've got seven safety seals on your ketchup). You can not drive for a while but everybody's gotta eat. And nobody grows their own food. So you fuck with food one little bit and the whole country is sideways. We were on the ragged edge of rice riots in 2008. We didn't see worse because we effectively control the world's food supply. But, as mentioned above, that control is tenuous.
And profitable, but only if you process the fuck out of your food. I made chicken en mole yesterday. For that you need thighs. Straight-up chicken thighs? 99 cents a pound. Boneless, skinless thighs? $7.99 a pound. Dry kidney beans? 99 cents a pound. Kidney bean chili? $1.79 for a sixteenth of a cup of beans. People think ramen is cheap. Know how much ramen costs to make? I knew a guy who ran a pizza joint for a while. Sold his pizzas for $9, they cost him about $3.50 in ingredients. The rest of it was overhead. Domino's? Domino's spends less than a dollar a pizza and they're buying everything from Sysco or the equivalent.
I can buy industrial chicken, retail, any day of the week for a dollar a pound. If I go to the farmer's market and buy a free-range organic chicken direct from the farmer it'll run me $6.99 a pound. Ever paid $28 for a chicken? I have. Once. Bill McKibben describes trying to interest the farmers around him in making artisan, free-range bacon. Nobody will do it because their cost to produce it was over $12 a pound.
We've tipped the scales heavily in favor of giant industry because it's all we can regulate and because it's the only thing that makes money. If you want to make things better, you suck the profit out of it and you get smaller and that fucks everything up. And we're past the point where there's much that can be done. Wanna see a scary graph? Here's the average age of the american farmer:
Wanna see another? here's the average size of the american farm:
Keep in mind that that average includes anyone who declares any farm income on anything over an acre... and that I have friends that grow hay on their back lots and sell it to each other just so they can maintain those bitchin' ag loans.
The system is deeply fucked. Deeply, deeply fucked. And the reason Obama hasn't done shit about it is that unfucking it is going to require some seriously heinous Upton Sinclair-grade drama. A lot of people are going to have to die, a lot of people are going to have to starve, and a whole bunch of bad shit is going to happen in order for anything to change and that bad shit is going to be blamed on whoever pulled the Jenga tile.