The food police

Americans hear from the food police all the time. There's no way to avoid them, unless by chance you live under a rock without cable or Internet. They see themselves as extra-thoughtful folks who merely wish to limit your soda intake, or get you going vegan rather than enjoying a cheeseburger now and then. For your own good, you know.

For the most part they think food is bad for you. All food. Any food. As far as they are concerned it will all kill you in one way or another. I don't think a week goes by when there isn't some new food scare or food scold or food warning. And the press certainly makes sure they all get equal time.

Sometimes I think that instead of living under our nifty little rocks (without cable service or Internet), they expect us to throw on some low-cal, non-fat, sugar-free, shade-grown, cruelty-free, vegan, locally grown, salad dressing, and eat them. Even then someone, most likely someone from New York City, would probably find something to complain about. (No rocks were harmed in the preparation of this tasty recipe.)

Even though I don't think anyone really likes them much, they are hard to ignore.

In some places, though, the food police are more than an annoyance; they are faced with some real horrors that need their attention pretty badly. Here in the U.S., our food is inspected so often and so thoroughly it is a wonder we don't wear it out before we get to eat it. (Another argument for rocks; they are quite durable.)

In other places, making a buck takes firm precedence over food safety.

Take China, for example. That fine nation has made it back into the news with still more food adulteration scandals -- really bad ones that make rocks look plumb tasty.

This time the government, in the form of the Ministry of Public Safety, by way of real, genuine food police, is cracking down on enterprising sorts who are peddling rat and fox meat as beef and mutton (kinda like the Rumanian scam that saw horse meat sold in several countries as beef). So far, 904 folks have been arrested.

There is quite a laundry list of other problems as well.

According the Asia edition of Food Navigator, illegal chemical use, the selling of meat from dead animals, and the injection of water to extend meat have also come to light in a sting operation -- 20,000 tons of meat have been seized since January.

Among the most egregious complaints was the selling of poultry that was already deceased by way of disease, to purveyors of fast food. This may have impacted some brand name companies in Japan, including some well-known American-based chains -- you know, the ones with a white-haired gentleman of southern extraction, or a big, scary clown -- as their spokesfolks.

According to Japan Daily press, "At the very least, there is a possibility that some of the diseased chicken meat might have found its way into the Japanese fast food market, especially when you look at the numbers of chicken meat imported from Chinese sources. In 2011 alone, 222,000 tons of chicken meat was imported from China into Japan."

To that I say, and most emphatically, ick.

Meanwhile, there is talk that Japan will be included in the new Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement, along with a number of other nations in the region, including Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

I hope Japan doesn't pass along any Chinese chicken.

Though negotiations are ongoing, there is concern about the impact the proposed pact will have on our own dairy industry.

Should New Zealand's dairy products be included in the agreement, the financial viability of our dairy farms could be seriously damaged. New Zealand is already the world's largest dairy exporter, with one company, Fonterra, maintaining a virtual monopoly on 90 percent of all production there.

Thanks to a favorable climate, which permits keeping cattle on pasture year-round and farmers' ability to grow such crops as pastured turnips year-round to feed them, New Zealand farmers can produce milk very cheaply. No barns, no need for much more than a concrete pad and a milking parlor for cow care. It's a great life if you have the weather, which, of course, most of the U.S. doesn't. In places where Americans don't need barns to keep cows sheltered from the elements, they are faced with extreme heat, which brings its own set of expensive management problems.

The National Milk Producers Federation said last year, "A U.S.-New Zealand TPP would negatively impact the U.S. dairy industry. NMPF estimated that milk prices received by producers would drastically drop and gross revenues received by U.S. dairy farmers would plunge by a cumulative $20 billion over the first 10 years of the FTA if U.S. dairy restrictions on exports from New Zealand were fully phased out in the TPP FTA."

Nearly 50 members of the Congressional Dairy Farmer Caucus asked for the dairy exclusion in a 2012 letter to USTR Ambassador Ron Kirk.

With America's dairy industry already struggling with high costs and low farm gate prices, inclusion of New Zealand dairy in what is being called the TTP FTA could even mean the death of the industry. New York serves as home to 6,000 dairy farms, a number which has fallen 50 percent in the past 20 years. Loss of even some of them could have a significant economic impact, which would reach far beyond the milking parlor and the summer pasture.

It is estimated that each dairy cow supports nine jobs. These may not be farm jobs. They may be jobs for grocery workers who supply corn flakes and cucumbers to farm workers' wives. They may be jobs for oil field workers who provide lubricants for farm tractors. However, whatever and wherever they may be, the jobs that rely in one way or another on the dairy industry for their existence are myriad.

New York has 600,000 cows. That's a lot of potential unemployment.

Fultonville dairy farmer MARIANNE FRIERS

is a regular columnist. She blogs