The Pilgrims had problems that would daunt Americans today: pestilence, hostile Indians and outdoor plumbing, to name a few. Small wonder that they celebrated their survival of that first, terrible year at Plymouth.
But at least the feasting forefathers didn't have to contend with some of the problems we face 366 years later: food contamination, cancer-causing pesticide residues, bureaucratic lassitude and the powerful industry lobbyists who resist efforts to protect consumers.
Just about everything on the Thanksgiving menu is represented in Washington by powerful lobbyists and trade organizations. Their assignment is to convince Congress and administrative agencies that government regulations should not be allowed to cut into the freedom of the marketplace -- meaning the profit margin.
Consider the noble bird that is the traditional centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal. Salmonella has been found in one-third of all broiler chickens, and "no one has said it isn't the same for turkeys," according to Diane Heiman, government affairs director of Public Voice for Food and Health Policy. The risk of salmonella has grown as diet-conscious Americans have increased their consumption of poultry to the point where inspection lines are understaffed.
The turkey industry's use of penicillin and tetracycline to enhance growth and ward off disease has not been an unmixed blessing for consumers. Studies have shown that bacteria, such as the type that causes salmonella, have built up resistance to antibiotics; thus when ingested by humans, they make treatment with antibiotics ineffective.
Consumer groups, like Public Citizen's Congress Watch and the National Resources Defense Council, complain that the federal government's lethargic efforts to address the antibiotics problem are a reflection of the clout exercised by lobbyists like the National Turkey Federation, the National Broiler Council and the drug industry's Animal Health Institute.
Carol Foreman, former assistant secretary of agriculture, told our reporter Jennifer Smith that the lobbyists are hard at work trying to scuttle a report by the House Agriculture appropriations subcommittee that deals with the contamination problem. The report recommends destruction of poultry contaminated by fecal matter, instead of permitting assembly-line workers to simply rinse off the filth as they do now.
The vegetables and fruits that complement the turkey have not escaped consumer groups' attention either. They cite a National Academy of Sciences study that estimates nearly 1.5 million cases of cancer will be caused among those now living in the United States by residues of 28 widely used pesticides in the food we eat.
Because the feds have been so slow to take action, some states -- notably California -- have undertaken their own efforts to test and regulate pesticide residues.