Beef: It’s what’s recalled for dinner

Another day, another beef recall.  If you Google “beef recall”, you’ll have no shortage of results.  In the past two weeks alone over 50,000 pounds of ground beef was recalled.  40,000 lbs for E. Coli and 12,000 lbs for Salmonella contamination.  The latter was actually a voluntary recall from Hannaford stores, spawned from over a dozen people falling ill.  As of the news report on 12/16 they still weren’t sure where the contaminated meat came from.  While they’re investigating, surely others are being affected.

If it seems like there’s been more recalls in the past several years, you’re very astute.  There have been.  And the reason is actually pretty straightforward.  The Food Safety and Inspection Service was created in 1981.  Federal funding of this important inspection effort has increased 25% from 1981 to 2007.  However, in that same time frame, “meat and poultry consumption in the U.S. has increased sharply. Since FSIS began operations, pounds of slaughtered meat and poultry inspected and approved by the agency have doubled — from about 52 billion pounds in 1981 to about 104 billion pounds in 2007. Much of the increase is due to the expanding U.S. poultry market. Pounds of poultry approved by FSIS nearly quadrupled during that time.”  So the amount of meat has increased by 100 – 200% but the inspection dollars have only gone up 25%.

Another major factor in the food safety and worker safety issue is the direct result of the increasing demand of beef.  That is, 20 years ago slaughterhouses were capable of “processing” 175 cattle per hour.  Today, 400 is more like the norm.  In an 8 hour work day, that 3,200 cattle.  IF the inspector is actually on site and even able to witness the whole process, that gives him exactly 0.11 seconds per cattle to do a thorough inspection.  The following is from the USDA FSIS Federal Meat Inspection Act.  Think of this as about 5% of the inspector’s job description.  The rest can be found here.

§603. Inspection of meat and meat food products.

(a) Examination of animals before slaughtering; diseased animals slaughtered separately and carcasses examined

For the purpose of preventing the use in commerce of meat and meat food products which are adulterated, the Secretary shall cause to be made, by inspectors appointed for that purpose, an examination and inspection of all cattle, sheep, swine, goats, horses, mules, and other equines before they shall be allowed to enter into any slaughtering, packing, meat-canning, rendering, or similar establishment, in which they are to be slaughtered and the meat and meat food products thereof are to be used in commerce; and all cattle, sheep, swine, goats, horses, mules, and other equines found on such inspection to show symptoms of disease shall be set apart and slaughtered separately from all other cattle, sheep, swine, goats, horses, mules, or other equines, and when so slaughtered the carcasses of said cattle, sheep, swine, goats, horses, mules, or other equines shall be subject to a careful examination and inspection, all as provided by the rules and regulations to be prescribed by the Secretary, as provided for in this subchapter.

(b) Humane methods of slaughter

For the purpose of preventing the inhumane slaughtering of livestock, the Secretary shall cause to be made, by inspectors appointed for that purpose, an examination and inspection of the method by which cattle, sheep, swine, goats, horses, mules, and other equines are slaughtered and handled in connection with slaughter in the slaughtering establishments inspected under this chapter. The Secretary may refuse to provide inspection to a new slaughtering establishment or may cause inspection to be temporarily suspended at a slaughtering establishment if the Secretary finds that any cattle, sheep, swine, goats, horses, mules, or other equines have been slaughtered or handled in connection with slaughter at such establishment by any method not in accordance with the Act of August 27, 1958 (72 Stat. 862; 7 U.S.C. 1901-1906) until the establishment furnishes assurances satisfactory to the Secretary that all slaughtering and handling in connection with slaughter of livestock shall be in accordance with such a method.


0.11 seconds to look for disease, open wounds, tumors, sores, signs of infection.  Then make sure the diseased animals are separated, slaughtered in a separate area, and labeled with a different stamp.  Seriously?  Are you starting to get the idea?  The people watching out for us, for our safety, and for the workers’ safety are doing a really shitty job.  Why is that?  Because we the people are demanding it.  We want bacon or a McMuffin for breakfast, deli sandwiches, egg salad or Whoppers for lunch, filet, Hamburger Helper, or chicken for dinner.  It’s bad enough that we drain the life giving milk out of dairy cows for 3-4 years so we can put cheese on everything in sight, and then we have to go and send them to a slaughterhouse so we can use every last scrap.  Where does the meat from dairy cows go?  Well ground beef, of course.  The lowest grade beef possible.

It’s interesting when you start to read about meat recalls, it’s not always just for something common like E. Coli or Salmonella.  Lately, it’s more often for undisclosed allergens and ingredients.  Undisclosed ingredients?  So if it says ground beef, you can’t trust that there aren’t undisclosed ingredients??  If you’ve heard about growth hormones, overuse of antibiotics, and questionable feed given to dairy cows, you quickly realize that the products of all of those chemicals are also in ground beef.

This short video explains the source of the largest recall in US history – 143 million pounds of beef recalled after this video hit the media.  Video spawns beef recall  If you’re an optimist, you would think that this was an isolated incident.  A horrible, corrupt company caught on camera and forced to pay for their crimes.  Sadly, everything you’ve just seen is not only perfectly legal, it’s standard practice in the meat industry.  All of it.

So what to do about it?  The easiest fix is to vote for new regulations!  Vote for safe food, and demand change.  I’m not just talking about voting when the elections come around every couple years.  I’m talking about voting when you shop for groceries.  Vote when you eat out, and vote when you stop for fast food.  By buying the products of factory farming, you are not only supporting the practices financially, you are increasing the demand.  If you want to be safer, stop buying meat products until they become safe.  If you want to be super safe, just stop eating the ground beef altogether!

If it means anything, just a couple weeks ago one of my dogs was having really tough allergy problems and tummy trouble to boot.  The vet suggested I give him something bland like beef or chicken.  As much as I love my vet and am very familiar with this age-old recommendation, there was no way in hell I felt that beef or chicken would be better for his upset stomach.  In fact, he appears to be allergic to both!  I tested out a veggie diet instead of his normal salmon kibble and all problems have resolved.  So again, for what it’s worth, I don’t even feel that ground beef is safe enough to feed my dog!


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