Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Last Sardine Cannery In America Will Close Tomorrow, Driven Out Of Business by Cheap Fish From China.

"Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses."
- John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

The last sardine packing plant in the U.S. will close tomorrow, driven out of business by corporate greed and "free trade," by cheap imported fish from China, packed by slave labor. I wouldn't want to work in a sardine packing plant, or be a commercial fisherman. But those jobs have provided a living to many Americans for many decades, and now those people have been thrown out of work.

One of the many detrimental effects of the U.S. adoption of trade policies based on the World Trade Organization (WTO), a corporate front-group which promotes "free trade," is that we have lost our ability to feed ourselves, to make things, or in any way to be an independent nation. Our jobs have been sent to other countries to be done by slave labor without any labor safety or environmental restrictions. The manufactured products are brought back into the U.S. and sold to Americans whose standard of living has plummeted as their jobs have been taken away.

The primary beneficiaries of U.S. new trade treaties have been international corporations who now can have the labor provided by slaves in third world countries, with no required worker safety, sanitation, consumer safety inspections, or environmental controls. Then the multinational corporations take those items and import them to the U.S. or other western nations and sell them are astronomical mark-ups, all to their profit and to the detriment of everyone else.

Since the U.S. began its new trade policies with China, the U.S. has lost millions of jobs. Items that used to be made in the U.S. are now made in China, and imported here.

Even farming, where we once were the envy of the world, has been sacrificed at the alter of corporate profits. We now import more food than we export. Among other problems, much of the food we import is never inspected and is not fit for human consumption.

We now import 78% of the seafood eaten in this country. Funny for a nation surrounded by oceans, and filled with lakes, a nation which once boasted large fishing communities now unemployed because they cannot compete with cheap poisoned imports from China. It really doesn't make any sense.

We should ban all imports of food. Or at least ban all imports of basic foodstuff which we can grow here or raise here. We certainly have fishermen, boats, lakes and oceans. There is no reason for us to eat fish from China or any other country.

"It has always seemed strange to me...The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success."
- John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

It used to be that imported food was limited to certain luxury items that were not made in this country: perhaps some specialty chocolate from Belgium, or unique cheese from Spain, baguettes from France. These items usually cost more, and were considered a luxury.

That has all changed. Now American supermarkets are allowed to buy poisoned crap from third world countries and sell it to Americans at the same or higher prices that they used to charge for non-poisoned food raised right here in our own country. Food grown in this country was subject to standards to restrict mercury, pesticides, ensure reasonable sanitation for those who grow or pack it. No more. Food from other countries is subject to no standards at all, and very little of it is inspected.

It would be a good thing to demand the government halt all importation of food. Revive our own ability to feed ourselves. Let other nations feed their own people. Stop the corporate control of food, which does nothing for the people, and is solely based on what is most profitable.

People should stop eating fish, unless they can be sure it is caught and packed in the U.S.. Why should Americans go over to China, deplete their oceans, bring fish over here which may be unfit for human consumption? Who benefits from that, other than the supermarkets who mark up the prices to astronomical levels while selling poison to the public.

If nothing else, ask your supermarket every time you go in there, ask the restaurants, whether all the fish they serve comes from the U.S. If it doesn't, don't buy it, and tell them you will not eat fish from any other country.

By Andrew Bridges, Associated Press WASHINGTON —

Just 1.3% of imported fish, vegetables, fruit and other foods are inspected — yet those government inspections regularly reveal food unfit for human consumption.

Frozen catfish from China, beans from Belgium, jalapenos from Peru, blackberries from Guatemala, baked goods from Canada, India and the Philippines — the list of tainted food detained at the border by the Food and Drug Administration stretches on.

Add to that the contaminated Chinese wheat gluten that poisoned cats and dogs nationwide and led to a massive pet food recall, and you've got a real international pickle. Does the United States have the wherewithal to ensure the food it imports is safe?

Food safety experts say no.

With only a minuscule percentage of shipments inspected, they say the nation is vulnerable to harm from abroad, where rules and regulations governing food production are often more lax than they are at home.

"FDA doesn't have enough resources or control over this situation presently," said Mike Doyle, director of the University of Georgia's Center for Food Safety, which works with industry to improve safety.

Last month alone, FDA detained nearly 850 shipments of grains, fish, vegetables, nuts, spice, oils and other imported foods for issues ranging from filth to unsafe food coloring to contamination with pesticides to salmonella.

And that's with just 1.3% of the imports inspected. As for the other 98.7%, it's not inspected, much less detained, and goes to feed the nation's growing appetite for imported foods. ....

"Never before in history have we had the sort of system that we have now, meaning a globalization of the food supply," said Robert Brackett, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. ....

Consider this list of Chinese products detained by the FDA just in the last month: frozen catfish tainted with illegal veterinary drugs, fresh ginger polluted with pesticides, melon seeds contaminated with a cancer-causing toxin and filthy dried dates. ....

Farmers use pesticides and chemical fertilizers to build produce yields and antibiotics are used on seafood and livestock. Heavy metals also can be introduced into the food chain by widespread industrial pollution.

Increasingly, those foods are sold in a now global marketplace.

While the European Union, Canada and Mexico still top the list of food exporters to the U.S., China is coming up fast. Since 1997, the value of Chinese food imports, including commodities like wheat gluten, has more than tripled, to $2.1 billion from $644 million, according to Agriculture Department statistics. It accounts for 3.3% of the total food the U.S. buys abroad.

The FDA has been stopping Chinese food import shipments at the rate of about 200 per month this year. Shippers have the right to appeal the detentions, after which the government can order products returned or destroyed.....

All told, the U.S. is expected to import a record $70 billion in agricultural products for the 12 months ending in September, according to an Agriculture Department forecast. The value of those imports will be about double the nearly $36 billion purchased overseas in 1997.

Contributing to that growth are the fresh fruits and vegetables imported during the offseason, when domestic production dwindles or ends.

About one-quarter of our fruit, both fresh and frozen, is imported. For tree nuts, it's about half. And for fish and shellfish, more than two-thirds come from overseas.

Even as the amount of imported food increased, the percentage of FDA inspections declined — from 1.8% in 2003 to 1.3% this year to an expected 1.1% next year.

...."We have better control than we did a few years ago but it is largely the responsibility of the importer to make sure those products are safe," said Stephen Sundlof, the FDA's top veterinarian.

ChemNutra Inc., the Las Vegas importer of the tainted wheat gluten, said it was "particularly troubled" that its supplier did not disclose it contained melamine.

Doyle, of the University of Georgia, warned the contaminated pet food could be an unsavory taste of what's to come.

"This is not the first and will not be the last but it certainly is a wakeup call for the public to get a better appreciation for where this country is going with imports and imported foods," Doyle said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

"There were frogs there all right, thousands of them. Their voices beat the night, they boomed and barked and croaked and rattled. They sang to the stars, to the waning moon, to the waving grasses. They bellowed love songs and challenges."
- John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

From the San Francisco Chronicle:
(04-14) 10:56 PDT Prospect Harbor, Maine (AP) --

The intensely fishy smell of sardines has been the smell of money for generations of workers in Maine who have snipped, sliced and packed small, silvery fish into billions of cans on their way to Americans' lunch buckets and kitchen cabinets.

For the past 135 years, sardine canneries have been as much a part of Maine's small coastal villages as the thick Down East fog. It's been estimated that more than 400 canneries have come and gone along the state's long, jagged coast.

The lone survivor, the Stinson Seafood plant here in this eastern Maine shoreside town, shuts down this week after a century in operation. It is the last sardine cannery not just in Maine, but in the United States.

Lela Anderson, 78, has worked in sardine canneries since the 1940s and was among the fastest in sardine-packing contests that were held back in the day. Her packing days are over; now she's a quality-control inspector looking over the bite-sized morsels in can after can that passes by her.

"It just doesn't seem possible this is the end," Anderson lamented last week while taking a break at the plant where she's worked for 54 years. She and nearly 130 co-workers will lose their jobs.

....The first U.S. sardine cannery opened in Maine in 1875, when a New York businessman set up the Eagle Preserved Fish Co. in Eastport.

Dozens of plants soon popped up, sounding loud horns and whistles to alert local workers when a boat came in with its catch from the herring-rich ocean waters off Maine. By 1900 there were 75 canneries, where knife-wielding men, women and young children expertly sliced off heads and tails and removed innards before packing them tight into sardine tins.
...."This is it. We don't have any more," Colson said as he watched workers swiftly pack cans in assembly line fashion. "It's not easy seeing this go."

....Even without the quota cuts, the plant was under pressure from shrinking consumer demand, increased foreign competition from countries with lower labor costs — primarily from China and Thailand — and thin margins and low prices on the retail market.

John Steinbeck's 1945 novel, "Cannery Row," an important part of American literature and life, was a novel about the misfits who worked and lived in and around the streets of Monterey lined with sardine canneries. It's like a part of America is disappearing.


  1. Yes, it is very sad, isn't it? I recently did some research on foreign fish too. I agree 100% that we as Americans need to educate ourselves better. We can't rely on the FDA to inspect our foreign food. And the health risks of eating chemical and drug laden fish are only going to raise our health care costs over time. The old adage is true: We really ARE what we EAT!

  2. Yes, we are. The entire process of importing fish is so insane. We should eat our own fish. Let China eat their own fish or sell it to their neighbors. Instead, they are now engaged in fish-farming to sell to western nations. The effect of fish-farming will likely be to further destroy the oceans.

    Then we learn that much of what is imported is filthy, poisoned, not fit for human consumption. Why don't we, the citizens, have any rights? It always comes down to the same thing: corporations bribe our politicians to pass laws to let them do things like this. Corporations want to import fish, but who will pay to inspect it and make sure it's not going to make us sick? Not the corporations.

    The real disgusting part is that Obama cut a deal with the drug sellers early on in the healthcare discussions. Obama agreed (in direct contradiction of his campaign promises) that he would not allow Americans to begin buying their drugs in Canada. They are the same drugs we use, but at half the price. Obama knows that. But he claimed the drugs might be bad. Yeah -- so's the fish. So's our government when our politicians take bribes from corporations and lie to the public.

    And I like Obama. I'm a fan. I don't mostly blame him. It's the people who came before him. The question is this: will Obama stand up to Congress, as he promised in his campaign, and demand that they institute radical reforms to the way our government works. Starting with making it illegal for federal employees to go work for lobbyists when they leave office. And campaign finance laws that make it illegal for them to take more than $100 from any person or from any "corporate-people." Rescind the U.S. trade agreements and start over with requirements that any trade agreement will not eliminate American jobs. Will Obama really bring change to our country, or will he just engage in the same-old corrupt politics of the Bushes, Clinton, Reagan, and too many in recent decades: votes for sale.