The Hightower Lowdown

Questionable capitalist claims; and the EPA's deal with hog farmers stinks.

WHAT'S THAT SMELL

Rural people and local officials have long complained to the Environmental Protection Agency about the sickening air and water pollution coming from the massive, corporate hog factories that have sprung up across the country. And now -- by gollies -- George W. Bush's EPA is listening ... to the polluters!

These hog factories are huge, cramming tens of thousands of hogs inside and channeling hog urine and feces into open-air cesspools the size of football fields. Oh, the stink! Think of rancid road kill mixed with overloaded Porta Potti on a hot day. It's a knee-buckling, mind-melting, pass-out stink.

But the stench is not just an "odor" -- it's a substance. In particular, it's fecal dust, and hundreds of tons of these invisible hog-stuff particles drift through the air for residents of the area to breathe. Scientific studies now are proving that the stink is poisonous, ruining people's health.

Instead of enforcing existing laws or enacting stronger protections for people, however, the Bushites closeted themselves with industry lobbyists, privately negotiating on a proposal written by polluters themselves.

Hold your nose, because the plan agreed to by Bush & Co. is even stinkier than hog stuff. One, the corporate hog factories are to be given amnesty for any past violations of the Clean Air Act -- even violations that poisoned people. Two, the EPA will pursue no new cases against polluters, and control of factory-farm pollution will be moved from the EPA's enforcement professionals to its political office.

Three, in exchange for this get-out-of-jail-free card, the industry agrees to have its pollution "monitored" by the EPA on a voluntary basis. But only 30 of the thousands of hog factories will be monitored, and even if they're found to be rank violators of the law, they will not have to make changes in their practices.

To fight Bushstink, call the GRACE Factory Farm Project at 212/726-9161.


PACKAGED LIES

It's time for another trip into the Far, Far, Far-out Frontiers of Free Enterprise.

Today, Spaceship Hightower takes you into the dark hole of corporate claims about the virtues of their packaged food products. Our guide is Consumer Reports magazine, which probes the crassness of commercialism every month.

Here's a pick to get us started: "Dairy Fresh." If you like fresh cream in your coffee, you might reach for this -- unless you happen to see the fine print confessing that "Ultra-pasteurized Dairy Fresh" never saw the inside of a cow barn. It's nondairy creamer.

Then there's the big summer sausage that the Hillshire Farm proudly labels "Yard-o-Beef." Now that's a hunk of sausage -- but it's not a yardlong hunk by any stretch of the imagination. More like a foot-and-a-half, only not quite. But "161/4-inches-o-Beef" just wouldn't have the same zing, so what the hell -- call it a yard.

Let's give credit for truth in packaging, though, to the Dole company. Its bag of Peeled Mini Carrots has this reassuring disclosure right on the front: "Contains Carrots." If you think it's absurd that Dole would feel it necessary to tell us that its bag of carrots contains carrots, you've not tried the Brie and Peppercorn Gourmet Spread. Flip the box over to read the list of "gourmet" ingredients, and the only cheese it mentions is cheddar. Keep flipping the box and you'll finally solve the mystery when you find this bit of small type: "Brie-Type Flavor." Apparently, though, we can rest assured that the peppercorns are real pepper, not pepper-type flavor.

The consumer who's most disappointed with product packaging, however, has to be the fellow who eagerly cracked open his fortune cookie and found not a message of hope, mystery, insight, humor, or good luck, but this crass pitch: "Promote literacy. Buy a box of fortune cookies today."

That's clear grounds for a deceptive-packaging lawsuit ... or at least another cookie.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit www.jimhightower.com. You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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