Not quite ready for salmonella

Published 11:40 pm Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Maybe the news left you yawning over your nutritious breakfast, but it shouldn’t. Every American has a stake in the fact that the United States Department of Agriculture has announced the closing of nearly 260 offices, labs and other facilities.

The coming months will see a testing of our uneasy love-hate relationship with the USDA. We hate bureaucracies, waste and overregulation, but we love our benefits and food safety programs.

In these tough economic times, the USDA’s Blueprint For Stronger Service calls for trimming the fat. (“Yea, verily, thou shalt trim the fat. And thou shalt cut it with thine right hand, which belongs to a person not under 16 years old and has been dipped seven times in … Sorry. Old habits.”)

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My day job involves working at a farmers’ cooperative store; but almost everyone knows that the USDA oversees a wide array of programs, including emergency aid to farmers, grants for rural development and food assistance programs for the poor.

You may be unaware of some of the other services that face getting the old heave-ho: sensitivity training for scarecrows, scrutiny of the dating practices of “extra-virgin” olive oil, helping former farmers with “summer rain falling on a tin roof” withdrawal, transportation assistance so this little piggy doesn’t have to cry “wee wee wee” all the way home….

Also endangered: the military’s contingency plan for blocking the Straits of Des Moines and stopping the flow of corn to Iran. Yes, in spite of the announced cutbacks, American agriculture is still the envy of the world, especially Iran. Our drone planes unveiled the construction of a wheat enrichment bunker that poses an imminent threat to Israel’s pride, if not its physical security. (“How do ya like THESE bagels, trespassers on the land of Palestine?”)

One might well ask what else can happen to beleaguered rural communities. First, the Postal Service announced the closure of many convenient post offices. Now the USDA wants to consolidate and make farmers drive farther. (Don’t tell the EPA.) I understand that Phase 3 of Uncle Sam’s war on the agrarian lifestyle involves sending underemployed National Guard troops on clandestine “cow tipping maneuvers.”

The official line is that the nation’s food safety programs will not be impaired. Many of us remain skeptical. The USDA became a separate entity under Abraham Lincoln and achieved Cabinet status under Grover Cleveland. Now, under the current administration, it will have earned a motto of “We make more cursory glances before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.”

Initial misgivings will spread exponentially if we see unemployed USDA workers holding signs that say “Will work for … Air Jordans … or Kindle Fire … or anything but FOOD!” And perhaps someone should tell the Department of Education to make a preemptive strike against schoolchildren singing “Old MacDonald had a farm, E. coli, E. coli, O!”

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack insists the department can’t continue to conduct business the way it did 50 years ago. Yes, teleconferencing, online form submissions and other modern innovations have rendered many brick-and-mortar, face-to-face transactions obsolete; but there was something charming and innocent about the USDA in 1961. (“I saw it — right there on TV! A talking horse! It said ‘Willl-burrrr!’ just as clear as a bell! We need to regulate and subsidize this before the commies catch up with us!”)

Email Danny Tyree at, or visit his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”