The Multinational Monitor

OCTOBER 1991 - VOLUME 12 - NUMBER 10


B E H I N D   T H E   L I N E S

Toxic Lunch

More than 1,000 workers in Juarez, Mexico maquiladora plants have suffered from food poisoning during the past several months after eating in company cafeterias. Most of the workers have been poisoned by salmonella, a bacteria commonly found in spoiled chicken. This summer, Juarez mayor Jesus Macias Delgado ordered an emergency inspection of all cafeterias in the more than 300 maquilas located on the Mexican border of El Paso, Texas. Six cafeterias were subsequently closed.

In May, 581 workers at the RCA Componentes S.A. maquiladora became ill after eating chicken, beef and pork. A few days after being released from the hospital, one 22-year-old employee died of a heart attack brought on by toxins in her system. In July, 40 workers at the Japanese Taisho Electomex maquila became ill after eating lunch served in the company cafeteria. Most recently, in September, more than 300 workers at Ford's Favesa subsidiary suffered from food poisoning.

Ford spokesperson John Emmert says that the company called for an inspection of all plant kitchens after the incident and is currently conducting an investigation of the poisoning. He says the kitchen at the Juarez plant is regularly inspected by Mexican authorities and by Ford management. The last Ford inspection was in June. Emmert asserts that it is in the company's best interest to keep its employees healthy. 'We don't take this matter lightly," he says, "It is an intolerable situation and we will do no less [to correct the problem] than we would do in one of our plants in the U.S."

Critics charge, however, that the food poisoning stems from the fact that U.S. companies operating in Mexico do not adhere to the same health and safety standards as in the United States. Victor Munoz of the AFL-CIO's El Paso Central Labor Union says that while there are strong health and safety regulations on the books in Mexico, enforcement is lax because the Mexican government lacks funds and because it does not want to alienate companies that bring jobs to Mexico.

Munoz asserts that responsibility for the food poisoning "lies with the companies" operating themaquilas. Most of the companies contract out food preparation to small catering services which are inexperienced in handling food for large numbers, purchase low-grade meat and poultry and often do not use refrigeration.

Another Faustian Bargain

Eagerly seeking to embrace the world capitalist system after their break from the Soviet Union, the governments of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia have applied for membership to the International Monetary Fund. Once accepted, the countries will be able to negotiate loan packages with the international lending institution which will almost certainly be contingent on the implementation of free-market reforms and IMF-prescribed austerity programs. In the several Eastern European countries which have recently joined the IMF, these programs have involved deregulation, privatization and massive cuts in domestic expenditures [see "Capital Goes East: The Role of the IMF in Eastern Europe," Multinational Monitor, June 1991].

The IMF plans to send a team of economists to each country to collect economic data to determine the capital subscription the governments will have to pay for membership. IMF spokesperson Graham Newman says that if no difficulties are encountered in collecting this data, the Baltic countries should be accepted for membership within the next nine months to one year.

Meanwhile, on October 5, the Soviet Union became a "special associate" member of the IMF. Newman says the association agreement will "unlock technical assistance for economic reform" in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union's application for membership to the IMF is pending.

The Revolving Door

The administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) resigned in late August to assume a high-level position at the National Food Processors' Association. Formerly in charge of ensuring the safety and wholesomeness of meat and poultry, Lester Crawford will now serve as executive vice-president for scientific affairs for an organization which represents over 500 food processors, as well as manufacturers of packaging and processing equipment.

Food safety advocates are not surprised by Crawford's move. Rod Leonard, executive director of the Community Nutrition Institute and a former administrator of FSIS, says that Crawford has pursued a "typical career of industry representation," working first for the poultry and drug industries, then coming to Washington to work for the Food and Drug Administration and FSIS and now returning to an industry association.

Crawford served business well, Leonard says. "Rather than try to improve the quality of poultry inspection and therefore the wholesomeness of food," Leonard argues, Crawford "worked in exactly the oppositedirection" by heading up "the effort of the Reagan and Bush administrations to deregulate meat and poultry inspection."

Leonard believes that Crawford probably chose to leave the Department of Agriculture because he had "used up his credibility with Congress" and was "no longer ... useful to industry or to the administration."

Holley Knaus


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