After a sip of (Brazilian) orange juice and a nibble of bacon (from a market hog farrowed in Canada), U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns looked out the small window of the (Canadian-built) chartered jet to survey the Ohio farmland glistening in the June dawn far below.
“Where are we going today?” asked Johanns, shifting in his soft-as-butter (Italian) leather seat.
His aide, midway through a (Sri Lankan) cinnamon and (Mexican) blueberry muffin, gulped quickly to say, “Minnesota, sir.”
“What’s in Minnesota?” queried the Secretary as he scribbled a note with a (Belgium) fountain pen on a (Swedish pulpwood) napkin.
“Well, sir,” replied the aide between sips of (Columbian) coffee, “it’s the (Canadian) ‘mad cow’ seminar you planned,” his voice edging toward testiness. “You’re going to prove to Japan and R-CALF that Canada’s cows are really American cows.”
“Right,” Johanns noted before turning again to the passing Ohio scenery.
The aide touched the side pocket of his (Haitian-made) suit coat for the (Argentine) cigarettes and (Costa Rican) lighter he hoped it held.
“Say,” stirred the Secretary noting the aide’s nicotine need, “could you get me today’s guest list from my (Spanish) briefcase so I can memorize the first names of who I invited?”
Before Johanns’ request was complete, the aide unsnapped his (made-in-India from Chinese nylon) seatbelt to scramble after the papers. Rising quickly, however, he slammed his forehead into the (Malaysian teak) headliner of the small jet. The hard jolt nearly knocked him out of his (Pakistani) socks and (English leather) shoes.
“Wow!” exclaimed the Secretary, pressing a hand over his white shirt (from the Dominican Republic) and (Japanese) silk tie to grab his heart. “Stay seated; I’ll get you a (German) aspirin and some (French) bottled water.”
The aide did as told; his head hadn’t hurt this much since he had mixed (Dutch) beer with (Australian) wine at a (Greek) fraternity party two years ago.
“Sorry,” said Johanns returning, “the Secretary of Defense used this jet yesterday, so the aspirin are gone. Lean back and rest.”
The Secretary returned to his seat. A moment later he tapped the shoulder of a USDA veterinarian in front of him to ask if he knew the retail price of rib-eye steak.
The vet, an expert on African sheep diseases who was free to make the mad cow run that day, hadn’t a clue. Bureaucrat that he was, though, his reply was serving and self-serving: “I’ll call my wife, Mr. Secretary, for the latest price.”
Two minutes later, after reaching his spouse at her job (in the Latvian embassy) on his (Norwegian-made) cell phone – he delivered the meaty intelligence: $8.15 per pound.
“Holy cow!” exclaimed the Secretary. “Call J.B. immediately.”
Undersecretary J.B. Penn was entertaining some (global) meatpacking executives when the red phone (from Singapore) jangled.
“Scuse me, boys, that’s the boss.” Penn leaned back in his antique (Syrian) lacquered chair and hit the speaker button on the phone. “Yes, sir,” he announced loudly, “what can I do for you this morning?”
“J.B.,” relayed the Secretary, “I’ve darn-near got my (Japanese) wheels down at the (Canadian) mad cow meeting and I’ve just learned that rib-eye is $8.15 at the Safeway. We need to do something.”
Penn paused to wink at his packer buddies.
“Well, Mr. Secretary,” he said slowly, “we can increase cattle imports from Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and even Nigeria. In fact, Canada is sitting on about 5 million ripe cattle as we speak.”
The line was silent. “J.B.,” came back the Boss, “it all will be stamped ‘USDA inspected,’ right?”
“Yes, sir. It will all be American – and all cheaper American – once it lands in America,” Penn said.
“So importing beef isn’t a safety issue over mad cow disease; it’s an economic issue over mad beef prices?” suggested the Secretary.
“So we should import beef to save the American beef consumer,” Johanns said, thinking out loud.
“That’ll work,” replied Penn.
Johanns returned to the view in his window. “What a great country,” he said as he adjusted the (Chinese-made) American flag pin on his suit jacket’s lapel.
(Alan Guebert’s Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 75 newspapers in North America. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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