The Veggie Life draws me closer…(another moment of shock and grossness, brought to you by the beef industry)

Over on La Vida Locavore, I found links to this article on the Sierra Club site.

Check out this quote; I can’t quite believe this guy:

“Why won’t the USDA require testing? The Times quoted Dr. Kenneth Petersen, assistant administrator of the department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service: ‘I have to look at the entire industry,” Petersen said, “not just what is best for public health.’ That quote perfectly encapsulates the belief system that has spread like a virus for 30 years in our society–that nothing can be allowed to get in the way of driving down the prices of raw materials to fatten profit margins.”

Can you believe that? The food and safety inspector of the USDA is quoted there saying that public health is not his priority.  That other things are more important. That he believes this is scary enough–that he’d say it out loud and be quoted saying it, as though it’s in any realm of possibility sort of okay, is terrifying to me.

Also, check out this article from the New York Times, detailing some of the issues around e coli outbreaks from hamburgers, including the deaths of four children from eating tainted meat at a Jack in the Box in 1994.  For example, did you know that about 15-20% of any typical fast food burger is made from what Cargill calls “calls ‘fine lean textured beef.’…between 50 percent and 70 percent fat, including ‘any small pieces of fat derived from the normal breakdown of the beef carcass.’ It warms the trimmings, removes the fat in a centrifuge and treats the remaining product with ammonia to kill E. coli.”

Ammonia treated fat trimmings.  Lovely. The ammonia is supposed to kill the e coli–but, e. coli was found in beef products produced this way, from the same company, in 2006, 2008, and 2009.  In school lunches.

The deal is that pretty much all beef suppliers–including the plain old “ground beef” you get from the grocery store, has regular beef mixed with these “trimmings” in order to keep the fat-to-lean ratio consistent.  And since most of the companies who provide these really cheap trimmings refuse to let buyers test the trimmings, most sellers of ground beef don’t test until the finished product, which may contain trimmings from several different sources–at that point, it’s impossible to trace where they came from.  (Except for Costco.  They refuse to purchase trimmings from any company who refuses to let them test them.  Which resulted in a number of companies refusing to sell to Costco.  One of those companies is Tyson.  Reassuring, isn’t it?)

For a really long time, my giving up of commercial beef was a grudging and somewhat sporadic resolution, made more out of a sense of guilt and i-write-a-green-blog-i-really-should-do-this…but with every story like this that comes by, that little pull of that McDonalds cheap burger has less and less power.  I think about eating one, and then I think about what I’d be eating, and I in fact not only don’t want the burger, I find myself less hungry all around.

Another paragraph from the Sierra article: “What would happen if we returned to a world in which hamburger was just a ground-up piece of beef? It would cost about 30 cents more per pound, or 7.5 cents more for a Quarter Pounder from McDonald’s. Imagine two lines of burgers, one labeled ‘ground chuck, fully tested’ and the other ‘assorted beef byproducts from untested facilities known to routinely violate safety standards.’ Would you pay a few pennies extra for the former?”

Yes.  So, I think, would everyone I know.  Except those of us who still have problems with how commercial beef is produced even not in evil-gross-trimmings-land…but it would be a heck of a good step.

(UPDATE: Here’s another NYTimes article–I especially like the part where the state of Georgia sent back a bunch of the ammonia-treated beef-product because it had a really strong smell of–you guessed it–ammonia! Beef Products’ response? “When you mix it with ground beef it’ll dilute the smell.” WTF?????)


Posted on January 22, 2010, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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