RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Pop Quiz!

In the last month, we've said "appalling" so many times that the meaning is lost, and we long for other words -- joy, zest, fun, spring, hope. But "appalling" keeps bubbling to the top, relentlessly.

While the news channels have such riveting pictures and sound to offer, the politicians know we're glued to the tube and when the citizens are away, the pols will play with our futures. It's time to be vigilant.

Pop Quiz! USDA labeling True or False:

1. "Dolphin-Safe Tuna" has been netted without harm to dolphins.

2. "Fresh" means "never frozen," i.e., never chilled to hardness -- 0 to 30 degrees.

3. When you buy organic, you can rest easy that no GMOs were used in your foods.

Answers: 1. False. Before January, 2003, the "Dolphin-Safe" label said what it meant, but the Bush administration changed the regulation to satisfy (as the Wall Street Journal says) a trade dispute with Mexico. Now, "Dolphin-Safe" means nobody has seen a dolphin harmed in the nets, but there's no requirement that anybody's watching. And we weren't watching when this change was made -- we were tied up in knots over Iraq.

2. False. A product can be chilled to 20 or 30, then thawed out and labeled "fresh." Frozen, on the other hand, means "chilled to 0 degrees and held." This misleading label was invented in the Clinton administration, proving you just can't trust an Arkansas pol to resist something that will make money for two Arkansas corporations -- Tyson and Wal-Mart. Again, we weren't vigilant. We were watching Monica Lewinsky, Lewinsky, Lewinsky ...

3. Temporarily true. The 2003 Farm Bill asks to allow animals raised on non-organic grains to be labeled "organic." That means the increasingly-huge "organic" food companies like General Mills and ConAgra could raise animals in feedlots, using GMO grains, and take advantage of our trust in the organic label to charge a much higher price. Write, fax, or e-mail your representatives and tell them we don't want this changes. Then, find out where your food comes from -- don't buy products from corporate crooks.

And, keep an eye on your statehouse.

In Missouri, the Republican majority is romping through and destroying the environmental regulations that have kept our streams pristine and our air, well, breathable for the most part. A bill to allow gravel mining in some of our favorite floating rivers will release silt to muck up the streams for miles, choking wildlife and disrupting fragile species.

A bill to dismantle all local regulations for polluters such as hazardous waste dumps and confined animals feeding operations (CAFOs) will allow corporate flacks to bring dioxin incinerators and football-field-sized buildings crammed with hogs to any neighborhood, trashing property values without telling the neighbors in advance, and setting the air poisoners close to the property line.

A bill to allow concealed weapons overturns the clear mandate against carrying that voters turned in two years ago. There are already metal detectors at the door to the capitol -- will we need metal detectors at the St. Louis Zoo? Worlds of Fun? Boxcar Willie's Branson theatre? The neighborhood elementary school?

The pro-gun bill was co-sponsored by a legislator with a family history of gun sales, so it's no surprise. In fact, none of this is a surprise. When pro-neighborhood folks testified against the major polluters, we saw the same lobbyists we'd seen five years ago when we passed the regulations. It's the same old stuff all over again.

What's new is that, after five years of failure of the big polluters, they're still at it. Subsisting on subsidies, accounting scams, and taking advantage of the new fools that are born every minute, the polluters convince people to buy land and build incinerators, CAFOs, "land farms" where gas stations can bring their waste and let it evaporate into the air. Claiming that they have no liability, the corporations trash one neighborhood after another, then move on.


Some things you can count on, though, for joy, zest, fun. Every spring, our place is awash with bright yellow daffodils. We must have a thousand. Big ones, little ones. I call the neighbor kids to come over, fill coffee cans and peanut butter jars, take them home and still we have a thousand. We are daffodil royalty.

The daffodils bloom for the better part of a month, and then, it seems to happen on one day, the flowers dry up and disappear, leaving only the straggly stalks. I hoard the last few blooms, bring them in the house, try to preserve them.

Joy, zest, fun, spring -- and here's hope. It's farmer's market season, the perfect time to launch your personal "buy local" scheme and knock out the props under the international export-import food system that exploits workers, trashes the environment, sucks up petroleum and threatens everyone's health.

Get to know your local farmers, and raise a hand for joy, zest, fun, spring, hope.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email:

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