Turkey & Chocolate: Commonalities?

Turkey and chocolate: what do they have in common?  Well in this case, it’s the distributor.  Have you heard of Cargill?  It is a private company that is the third largest producer of turkey products in the United States, as well as one of the biggest producers and distributors of chocolate.  Because Cargill is a privately owned company, they are not required to release the quantity of records and information that a publicly held company is, and therefore some things are kept secret.  Two things, however, have become public knowledge, and that’s what we’ll discuss here.

The first tidbit of juicy, no pun intended, information is about Cargill’s turkey products.  Last month, 36 million pounds of ground turkey were recalled in the United States following an outbreak that left an estimated 107 people in 31 states sick, and caused one death, according to the most recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The number of actual cases may be higher due to the existence of milder cases which were not reported.  Salmonella heidelberg, the strain of bacteria found to be causing this ordeal, is not always deadly.  Symptoms can include intense diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and headaches, but can pass rather quickly depending on the severity of the case and the individual’s reaction to the bacteria.  Unknown to many, it is sometimes a practice of meat processing plants to soak their ground meat in ammonia in order to avoid the occurrence of salmonella or other bacteria, as demonstrated in the documentary film, Food Inc.

Regardless, this turkey recall is yet another reminder of the prevalence of food-borne disease and the necessity to take preventative measures to avoid being the next victim of another outbreak.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, that after last month’s spiel about eating local, organic food, that this is the perfect opportunity to labor the issue.  Well yes, that is an important factor to take note of.  Local, organic eating is a preventative measure that can eliminate the need to worry about bacterial outbreaks in food due to the natural environment in which the product, in this case, the turkey, is raised.  When eating processed food, there are certain risks that are inevitable. 

According to an expert, Philip Alcabes, a professor of Public Health in New York City, this food-borne outbreak is a direct result of how food is produced in America.  He states in last month’s US News Health feature on the turkey recall that, “Most of the food that most Americans eat nowadays comes from someplace far away.  And much of it is produced industrially.  In this setting, bacterial contamination of foodstuffs is a fact of life.  That means that some people get sick each year, and a few die…It’s the price we pay as a society for our decision to create our food industrially.”

Disturbing is the only word that can describe that statement.  The value of an individual life is minimal in comparison to the demands of society.  It is well-worth it to risk a few lives in the pursuit of feeding  thousands, and Alcabes makes it sound as if America has long-resigned itself to this harsh truth.

This oft unstated truth becomes reality again when it comes to chocolate, bringing us to public knowledge fact number two.  Cargill happens to be one of the major companies involved in the Harkin-Engel Protocol of 2001 that was brought about by a public outcry following a BBC documentary.  US Representative Eliot Engel and Senator Tom Harkin had the best of intentions in their efforts to establish this protocol which was to be a commitment by chocolate producers to slowly but surely put an end to their unethical supply chains which enable the use of child trafficking, mostly from Mali, and enslavement for chocolate harvesting on cocoa plantations on the Ivory Coast. 

The proposed resolution, the Harkin-Engel Protocol, was short-lived, and due to the voluntary nature of the agreement, more of a PR stunt from the companies than anything else in order to allow public tension to subside, and ultimately protect the companies’ bottom line: dollars and cents.  As history would have it, by the time the deadline date of July 1, 2005 rolled around, nothing of note had been done by the companies in question to eliminate their dependence on child slavery as a method of keeping their costs low, and bringing Americans what they’ve come to expect: delicious chocolate at a nominal cost.  The compliance date was then pushed back to 2008, and then again to 2010 after no moves had been made by manufacturers to change sourcing practices.  

To this day, child slavery continues because the sins of the past that were brought to the light are being  forgotten, and not only Cargill, but also Nestle, Hershey’s and M&M/Mars, along with many others, continue to take advantage of the weak to make themselves strong.  So remember next time you pop an M&M or take a bite of your Snickers bar that a kidnapped African child was forced to harvest that chocolate to satisfy someone’s greed.

Again, we have the dollars, and therefore, the votes.  It’s not always easy to stand for what is right, but when we look into the face of something so obviously wrong, we have to do something.  In Jeremiah 22:3 it proclaims, “Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed…”  We cannot fully control the actions of others, and only God can bring judgment for the wicked and vindication for the victimized; we can, however, make our decisions based on what we know from God’s Word, acting in righteousness and love toward those in need, especially the children who have been robbed of everything from their childhood and their family, to their integrity and freedom.

Start looking for “Fair Trade Certified” chocolate at the grocery store to make sure that you are not purchasing chocolate that was harvested by innocent children enslaved for unjust gain.  Also, buy locally and take precautions against food that comes from who knows where and contains who knows what.  You have the choice, make it count!

Check out the documentary “The Dark Side of Chocolate” to learn more about why your sweets may not be that sweet after all.

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