Mad Cow and Main Street USA

Mad cow disease in America discovered during the recent holiday season may well sway “consumer confidence” near and far. Yet this disaster-in-progress is about far more than confident consumers.

Take folks in America. I will refer to these people as Main Street USA.

For them, MCD could be a lens through which to better their view of and activism against the system. That system is market production of, by and for a privileged few, the affluent and corporations.

I mean the “they” that, thanks largely to the public relations industry and its institutional next of kin, corporate media, are nearly invisible in public. This is a stunt, as author Gore Vidal has noted, without historical parallels.

But that social invisibility can, and in fact, is changing. Americans protesting last spring against the U.S. attack on Iraq is a case in point.

Is it such a leap from Saddam’s unfound WMD to the emergence of MCD? Consider the potential impact of Main Street USA turning its gaze on feedlot owners implicated in the MCD story.

After all, the same government that has facilitated MCD is also backing the U.S. corporate looting of Iraq. Concerning MCD, free-trade protesters, maligned as “anarchists” and the like by mouthpieces for the establishment, have led the way with a critique of corporate food production.

For example, since the WTO protests in Seattle four years ago, these dissidents have educated the public about agribusiness’ hunger for constant growth and profit by any means necessary. Essentially, they foretold the emergence of MCD from the beef and dairy industries.

In a nutshell, MCD shows the normal workings of the modern business enterprise under capitalist production. Its toxicity to human health and welfare also requires workers to create wealth beyond the wages they earn, also know as profits.

In that vein, MCD goes hand-in-hand with the increase of hungry Americans (34.9 million of them in 2002, up from 31 million in 1999, reports the USDA). Both crises are the rational outcomes of an irrational system based on production for profit, not human need.

Enter Main Street USA as it confronts domestic hunger and the slaughtering of unhealthy cattle fed to other creatures, and ultimately consumed by humans. Contradictions?

You bet. Basically with the MCD story, the people of America are looking at human productivity.

Who rules this productivity, and who is ruled by it? And why?

It is perhaps instructive to think of America’s working people being herded like so many cattle between school and work. During this herding, their brains are scrubbed with the ideology of free enterprise, level playing fields and fair competition.

Meanwhile across America from classrooms to feedlots and offices, people’s energy sustains the market system that churns out commodities such as beef and dairy products. So goes the process of commodity production for profit in which the alienated spirits of working people are just costs of doing business.

MCD is one outcome of such a system, and, I think, a critical point in American history. This should be no mystery, just a logical continuation of the transition from agriculture to industry.

That process in America, from roughly the Civil War to 2004, has featured millions of peasant farmers becoming industrial workers. I thought about that painful social change while watching the film “Cold Mountain” at my local corporate cineplex the other day.

In the U.S., the transition from a society of small agricultural producers to one of hourly wage workers, from family farms to corporate feedlots, is mainly over. However, in countries such as Indonesia and Mexico, the liquidation of the peasantry by the capitalist forces of production is very much an ongoing process.

South of America, the Zapatista uprising 10 years ago was a response to the NAFTA. It opened the gates to industrial agriculture from the U.S., dooming a people’s way of life.

The Zapatista resistance to U.S. agribusiness imports is a current example of people fighting to keep their ties to the land. They wish to be free of the modern economy that encloses folks in the global market of commodity exchange.

MCD casts some light on another example of this exchange, which U.S. trading partners want no part of, period. Investigating this development is quite necessary for many reasons, beginning with public health.

Kudos to investigative journalists John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton for doing that so well. We are in their debt.

Investigation of MCD is a first step. Increased regulation may, I say may, follow.

But only if more of Main Street USA awakens politically and demands it. Without that, I fear, the system that has created MCD will continue to create new and more lethal commodities, a hint of which may be found in the unclear contamination of nature by genetically modified organisms.

Though not readily apparent in America, a social change of consciousness was underway before the outbreak of MCD. The basis for that was the changing nature of the economy driven by capitalist technology.

I am thinking of free-trade protesters and organic food consumers. Together, they help to make up Main Street USA.

Its growing involvement in the issues of the day such as MCD is urgently needed, for its sake and the rest of the world’s.

SETH SANDRONSKY, a member of Sacramento Area Peace Action and co-editor of Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper. He can be reached at:


Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email