3.27.11 | Transblog
Tracing our products, food and medicine with effective calculators that figure in human capital as well as dollars.
“Current policies only institutionalize a global ignorance, in which producers and consumers cannot know or care about one another and in which the histories of all products will be lost. In such a circumstance, the degradation of products and places, producers and consumers is inevitable.”
-Wendell Berry 1999.
There is a pervasive, complex, and opaque system of corporate profiteering going on in our world right now: a lack of accountability in food production, a lack of process/resource visibility in product manufacturing, and a causative approach in the treatment of increasingly epidemic health issues such as diabetes. Companies have shifted the focus towards newsworthy claims that they can spin into good PR and give the impression that they have people’s best interests at heart when, in fact, it is the bottom line where their true interest lies.
Many of us recall the scandal brought to light upon the discovery Nike and Kathy Lee Gifford sweatshops in Vietnam and China. We are also reminded that the inhumane and unhygienic food practices blatantly illustrated in Upton Sinclair’s mid-century novel, The Jungle, and more recently in documentary films such as Food Inc. and Supersize Me, still go on today with no less momentum, just less visibility. A few days ago, the Iowa House approved a bill that would ban the use of video cameras to record animal treatment on farms. If passed, “undercover investigators who take agricultural jobs to gain access to animals and record their mistreatment, will face penalties up to a $7500 fine and five years in prison.” Florida is considering a similar bill.
It is common knowledge that our products are made in other countries under substandard conditions and that our food is caught and processed in ways that we would never approve if we were witness them first hand. To top things off, our healthcare system perpetuates and rewards sickness, keeping people just sick enough to be increasingly profitable.
So why do we continue to practice and follow these “business as usual” methods that aren’t in our collective best interests? Because it is too complicated to change, too difficult to untangle? Or is it simply too inconvenient to manage updates and trace the new input?
To get healthcare coverage here in the US, you need to complete and submit multiple forms revealing explicit and deeply personal information about your state of health and your situation so that the insurance companies can decide if you are a risky investment. Meanwhile, the huge fast food chains–who knowingly serve and sell you toxic artificial food that has been treated with ammonia, packaged in chemical laced wrappings, and made with artery clogging ingredients–continues to profit at our community’s expense. Should these companies not be subjugated to disclose a similar level of information upfront, about their processes and ingredients, as tobacco companies now do with their surgeon general’s warning? Who is the government protecting as policy invades personal information much more than corporate practices?
Pharmaceutical and biotech companies are salivating at forecasts of an explosion in the number of people diagnosed with diabetes in the coming years. Center for Disease Control estimates that by 2050, 29 million Americans will have diabetes–an 18 million person increase over the current number of 11 million people. That’s a huge market of potential customers for companies that produce (or will produce) maintenance drugs to manage the symptoms of diabetes. No cure but built in long term profits. Rather than rewarding companies and organizations that reduce and prevent cases, their running operation costs are cut while pharmaceutical and biotech companies rake in record profits.
A similar dynamic is at play as well with huge chain stores and companies that make products for pennies on the dollar, creating a throw away product and exploiting children and women around the world. The profit is paramount to the individual and consumers are left in the dark bout what, where, and who actually created what they are consuming.
In the spirit of good PR spin greenwashing—the process where a company presents themselves as environmentally conscious without living up to the moniker–has become so pervasive that we now must question most of what is labeled as organic, free-range, “local”, and environmentally sound. Companies are using these labels as advertising vehicles diluting any possible meaning and undermining our trust with dishonesty and hypocrisy. We need a new business model, one that rewards social and environmental innovation and conscience. In order for us to even begin to think we can turn things around, eco-audits and nutrition labels should be mandatory and business-as-usual for companies world-wide. Consumers need to be informed of what they are eating, what tainted components they are feeding their children, what miserable conditions made their outfit for the season, how much negative environmental and social impact that bottle of Fiji water is having on the world. So far only the paper industry has really taken the initiative to come up with a great way to establish the resources required to produce a product. New Leaf Paper was a pioneer in sustainable paper production years ago, creating the brilliant idea of an “eco calculator”. Now the good ole boys of the paper industry–giants like Neenah and Mohawk–have co-opted the practices pioneered by New Leaf Paper and taken the integrity of what NLP was doing and re-packaged it with 100x the money and distribution opportunities, easily squashing the smaller competition.
It seems that we have it backwards—reward should be given for innovative solutions that prevent disease, end waste, and promote human rights, animal rights, and a higher regard for the planet. It seems the time is ripe for a new model, a system that balances us with our planet and each other, not against.