Regarding The Inlander's cover story, "Super-Sized Life," (4/21/05), while I understand that a "sin tax" on soda may negatively impact Washington state workers, some incorrectly place the brunt of the blame for our country's weight problem on inactivity alone. Exercise is but one solution.
Childhood obesity and related diseases; type II diabetes, early dental caries and improper bone development resulting from insufficient calcium are largely the result of diet. For example, milk consumption by American children has dropped from about 24 ounces in the 1970s to less than eight ounces today. It's replaced by soda, aka "liquid candy." My friend's toddler recently had double root canals of his front teeth; his dentist said that the decay was caused by consumption of candy and soda.
Although I dissuade my child from soda primarily because of its empty calories, there are other issues to consider. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are routinely rated at the top of worst global corporations. Former Gov. Locke wasn't that ridiculous by claiming "drinking soft drinks is a sin." If we avoided this sin and stopped drinking soda, would some folks blame us for lost jobs at soda bottling plants? There are priorities, and our children's well-being comes before the protection of the soda manufacturers.
Perhaps those former soda employees will work for companies like Odwalla juice or Talking Rain bottled water. Meaning, I'm not advocating the ruination of the Washington state soda worker, but rather a switch from unhealthy to healthy beverage choices and allowing the market to reflect all that follows.
Being in a long, dark tunnel bothers some people. They think the walls are closing in, feel the air is getting thin and become obsessed on getting to that pinpoint of light at the tunnel's end. There is a similar state of mind called "tunnel vision" -- an inability to see where you are and what is happening, combined with a narrow focus on self-centered objectives.
Some people in the beef industry right now have a bad case of tunnel vision. What they haven't figured out is that pinpoint of light isn't the end of the tunnel -- it's a big train headed straight toward them. Unfortunately, the rest of the beef industry is going to get hurt in the wreck.
Let me explain. Today, the "Big Four" packing firms and a number of independent packers process cattle in the United States. Two of the "Big Four" also have facilities in Canada.
The independent packers, and those major packers that have plants only in the United States, have been damaged by the ban on importing Canadian cattle. Packers that own Canadian facilities can buy cheap Canadian cattle, process them in Canadian plants and send boxed beef into the United States to compete with domestic product. Packers without plants in Canada cannot leverage both markets and are at a serious disadvantage.
The longer border restrictions are in place, the more likely Canadian plants will increase packing capacity. Note the evidence:
- Last month, Canada announced plans to invest millions of dollars to build new packing facilities
- Canada increased packing capacity by more than 12 percent in 2004 and intends to have the capacity to process 100 percent of their own cattle in the future
- An April 12 report by the Canada West Foundation shows that meat packing and processing in Alberta "surged" in 2004 and continues in 2005, fueling overall economic growth in the region
- The Canadian government and the Province of Alberta pledged more than $80 million to "find new markets for Canadian beef" (about the amount that the U.S. beef check off collects in an entire year for research, marketing and all other work)
While Canada builds packing capacity and positions its industry to seize international market share from the U.S., packers here endure layoffs, cuts in hours and temporary shutdowns. In Idaho alone, recent government figures show slaughter dropped 51 percent during the past year. As plants shut down, producers lose markets for their cattle and the rural communities that rely on agriculture for jobs and a stable economy suffer.
The longer the border stays closed, the more likely it is that packers will close Northwest facilities (which have traditionally processed cattle from both the United States and Canada). This means Northwest producers and feeders will have to rely on distant Midwest facilities. Northwest producers will be forced to ship cattle to the Midwest (possibly even to Canada) to access processing facilities. The resulting transportation and shrink costs will be passed right back down to producers and reflected in the prices our calves bring.
The R-CALF litigation to keep the Canadian border closed encourages packer concentration in the U.S., which threatens producer profitability. One group's litigation, based on erroneous claims about beef safety, has already decimated U.S.-Canada relations and endangered our trade negotiations with Japan.
The price of tunnel vision is high and is only getting more expensive every day. According to the Livestock Marketing Information Center, cattlemen already have lost at least $1.4 billion in value due to closed export markets. Our international trading partners watch us every day to see how we treat Canada -- using our own actions as a model for decision-making.
This is an emotional issue for many. Nevertheless, we need to resist tunnel vision and shatter the illusion that this is good for cattlemen. Short-sighted protectionists have no place in the future of the beef industry. The beef industry needs, now more than ever, people like our forefathers who homesteaded this land. People with a long-term vision; optimists who see potential. Let's work for a future that embraces growth and encourages a rich legacy for the next generation. We need people who can focus on enlightenment, not drive mindlessly toward a pinpoint of light.
Truth in Words
My late wife's father lived on the Mississippi River and was called Huck most of his life after the famous Mark Twain character, so I think my two cents about the Huckleberry Finn book-banning controversy in the Central Valley schools ought to count for something. While I realize the "n" word is distasteful to Black Americans, the fact is the word "negro" was used for generations, as were the terms "redskins" and "red man" used for American Indians. While Twain's novel perhaps seems to overuse the pejorative "n" word, remember that the dialogue Twain used was common for that time and place, and anyone reading this work will discover that Jim is as much the hero in the story as Huck, which places the story in a unique position for that time in history. Twain's Jim, in fact, ranks right behind Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom, Howard Fast's Spartacus and Alex Haley's Kunta Kinte among the most influential slave characters in all American literature.
If people of good conscience want to protest bad words, how about the term "squaw" as applied to American Indian women, especially in geographical place names? As they used to say in the old Rowan and Martin TV show, look that up in your Funk and Wagnall's and you'll discover a word whose utterance of its etymology would have caused Aunt Polly to force Huck, Tom Sawyer and anyone else using that word to have their mouths washed out with soap and water. As an American, I find less shame in our national heritage about a story of Southern slaves than I do about our nation having hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics from "Vagina" Valley, California.
Suddenly We Care?
I am appalled at our elected officials, whether they be Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Left Wing, Right Wing -- you name it. How they all jockeyed their party, their nominee, their agenda around the Terry Schiavo case.
I am appalled at the media for trying to politicize this tragedy. This is more than about possible future candidates for 2008. The politicians and the media should have projected this tragedy as about where we are as a nation, as a people and as a society -- nothing more, nothing less.
We aren't protecting pregnant women carrying unborn children. We aren't protecting our children from sexual predators. We aren't providing enough medical care to our elderly people. We aren't protecting jobs from exportation to oversea countries. We aren't protecting our nation from future attacks. We aren't protecting or ensuring that the medicines produced here in the United States meet some sort of standard before being distributed to the general public. We aren't ensuring our children are not left behind educationally. We aren't trying to help the struggling people from having to apply for bankruptcy.
What makes us think that anyone would care about Terry Schiavo if it weren't for the 2008 elections? America, let's start looking at this situation from the outside in.