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Beef: It's What's For Dinner
December 13, 2012 9:48 AM   Subscribe

The Kansas City Star has concluded a year long investigation of the beef industry, and the results may sicken you. Literally. (contains slaughterhouse image) To quote the Huffington Post article on the investigation: This is the true state of affairs . . . just four companies process more than 87 percent of the beef packed in the U.S., and take advantage of novel, money-saving techniques that significantly increase the risk of contamination by foodborne pathogens, leading to hundreds of preventable illnesses every year.
posted by bearwife (90 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Perhaps the wording of the link should have been sufficient warning, but I was unpleasantly surprised to land at a large color picture of carcasses still looking much like cows (i.e. tongues hanging out in death) hanging on hooks over a long trough of blood.
posted by Egg Shen at 9:52 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The most annoying thing is that it forces you to watch some video before you can get to the actual reading of the story.
posted by elizardbits at 9:54 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


To be fair, if you click on a link about an industry, it's reasonable to expect to see the product.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:55 AM on December 13, 2012 [37 favorites]


"Hundreds of preventable illnesses every year" in the US due to beef handling is less than I would have expected.
posted by dfan at 9:57 AM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


...over a long trough of blood.

Mmm Mmm Mmmmmm. Looking forward to... DEVOURING... this huge report later. For now? I'll have me some bacon.
posted by ReeMonster at 9:57 AM on December 13, 2012


elizardbits: “The most annoying thing is that it forces you to watch some video before you can get to the actual reading of the story.”

Huh. I can't find any videos anywhere on that site, no matter where I click. And it doesn't force me to view anything in order to read any of the parts of the story. Weird.

Anyway, this is really a fantastic story, and a great post.
posted by koeselitz at 10:01 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


As I constantly tell vegan friends, I will not apologize for being omnivorous, nor will I stop. I do, however, agree it's both reasonable and appropriate to expect the animals we do eat to be slaughtered and processed as humanely and sanitarily as possible, for their own protection as well as ours.
posted by Curious Artificer at 10:02 AM on December 13, 2012 [27 favorites]


[added image warning, just email us next time?]
posted by jessamyn at 10:05 AM on December 13, 2012


Lots of good information there, and really worthwhile.

I can't imagine a more daunting way for the information to be presented than that grid-shaped barrage of inscrutable icons.
posted by gurple at 10:07 AM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Perhaps the wording of the link should have been sufficient warning, but I was unpleasantly surprised to land at a large color picture of carcasses still looking much like cows (i.e. tongues hanging out in death) hanging on hooks over a long trough of blood.

Great. Now think about working there 12 hours a day.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:09 AM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is why I buy my beef by the quarter from a local ranch that uses a mobile slaughterhouse, so the animals are processed at the ranch instead of at a big central facility. But I have a chest freezer and a family to feed; that's not a practical option for a lot of folks.

Wouldn't it be nice if we had some sort of publicly-funded regulatory body with the power to stop this kind of gross negligence when it occurs? Ah, well.
posted by KathrynT at 10:10 AM on December 13, 2012 [16 favorites]


Is the Star the big daily in KC?
posted by Mister_A at 10:11 AM on December 13, 2012


Is the Star the big daily in KC?

Yes, it is. And it was taking some heat yesterday in media circles for asking two reporters to decide between them which was to lose their job.
posted by rewil at 10:14 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The only daily in KC IIRC
posted by Windopaene at 10:15 AM on December 13, 2012


Now think about working there 12 hours a day.

You would probably be very surprised at how fast you become numb to it. The first time I entered a meat processing plant 25 years ago, it was a month before I could bring myself to eat another hamburger -- and that was a very clean plant that didn't even have a kill floor, just grinders and patty presses to convert sides of beef into Whoppers.

I don't go into these places often, just occasionally, but since then I've become quite blah about climbing under dripping machinery, wading through shallow pools of blood and kicking aside stray bits of flesh, as I tend to worry more about my laptop getting hosed down.
posted by localroger at 10:18 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Huh. I can't find any videos anywhere on that site, no matter where I click.

Under the very first heading "Processing, packing and health", when I click on the "risks from tenderizing" square, it goes to an article for about 1 second and then is immediately diverted to a video with no controls other than play and pause. It's an older woman sitting on a couch presumably telling some kind of sad beef story, but idk because I have no sound on this computer.

posted by elizardbits at 10:19 AM on December 13, 2012


You would probably be very surprised at how fast you become numb to it.

That's true. I've known people that become squeamish in an Asian butcher when they see a deep fried pig carcass (with head) or an entire roasted duck. To me it's just food.
posted by FJT at 10:22 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know, there are good evolutionary reasons to be squeamish about animal carcasses. And this article points out some good real-world reasons, too. I don't think not being squeamish about images of a slaughterhouse is some kind of virtue. Unless you have to work there, of course.
posted by gurple at 10:24 AM on December 13, 2012


Under the very first heading "Processing, packing and health", when I click on the "risks from tenderizing" square, it goes to an article for about 1 second

Here's the actual article I think you were trying to read, elizardbits.
posted by bearwife at 10:26 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that link does the same video thing, alas.
posted by elizardbits at 10:27 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I buy my meat at a Halal butcher shop. I'm not Muslim, but they don't seem to mind. And I assume that a Halal slaughterhouse is going to be more careful about such things.

Plus the meat is excellent.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:32 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is what we really should be discussing:
just four companies process more than 87 percent of the beef packed in the U.S.
There are to many industries that are an oligopoly. It should never have been possible for 4 companies to capture 87% of the market. It is not a free market. The government should regulate until there is a free market. The government should be continually probing every industry and running tests to see if it is "free". It is almost impossible for a new entrant to compete in an oligopoly.
posted by sety at 10:32 AM on December 13, 2012 [10 favorites]


As I constantly tell vegan friends, I will not apologize for being omnivorous, nor will I stop.

Many of us, vegetarian or vegan, wouldn't presume to make that request of you. But thank you for making it about us!
posted by mintcake! at 10:34 AM on December 13, 2012 [26 favorites]


I don't think not being squeamish about images of a slaughterhouse is some kind of virtue.

I don't see it as a virtue either, and I don't think anyone else was framing it like that. And to be frank, my own reasons for not eating ground beef and very little regular cuts of beef primarily involve cleanliness and possibly environmental concern, empathy for the animal and ethical concerns are tertiary. And that's how I make the case to my axe murderer friends about their nasty beef eating habit.
posted by FJT at 10:38 AM on December 13, 2012


This is why I buy my beef by the quarter from a local ranch that uses a mobile slaughterhouse

China? 'Cause, uh...that ain't beef.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 10:38 AM on December 13, 2012


My solution (other than becoming vegetarian): buy beef from small family farms that grass feed and process their own animals. More humane and much healthier. My favorite is this farm in Florida, along with lots of local farmers markets and ranches.

It costs more and requires more effort, but the existing government food system controls are not working to protect the food supply.
posted by letitrain at 10:40 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


While I do not endorse eating at Applebee's, nor do I like the taste of beef all that much, I think having one's colon destroyed by ordering a steak in a restaurant is... well extreme.

[Beef industry spokesmen] say government studies show large cattle slaughter plants have higher food safety ratings than small plants and that the industry performs thousands of E. coli tests daily to help ensure that U.S. beef is safe.

Of course, when the large slaughter plants are writing the legislation, this is more or less assured, no? If you can ensure that smaller operations can't meet requirements, it's much harder for them to compete at their scale. Also, obviously, from earlier in the story, "help ensure" and "ensure" are not the same thing. Tell it to the lady's colon, mac!
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:40 AM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't eat beef anymore, and haven't for awhile. I am, however, lucky enough to have an avid and responsible deer hunter as a close friend. He supplies me with all the deer I need to easily replace beef in my diet.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:42 AM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


My brother and I have a small herd of cattle that we (mostly he) raise. From time to time we'll get together, slaughter one and split the meat. It's the way I grew up and you can't really beat the taste/quality. Animal carcasses don't make me squeamish, but slaughter houses and the way they are run sure do.
posted by the_artificer at 10:44 AM on December 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


So what do they do with all that blood?
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:46 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I grow up, I'm going to Bovine University!
posted by MoonOrb at 10:49 AM on December 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


Wild deer still could have CWD, which is the equivalent of mad cow disease. I'd feel even more squeamish about that, because there isn't even the illusion of random testing and sampling for hunted animals.
posted by hwyengr at 10:49 AM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Perhaps the wording of the link should have been sufficient warning, but I was unpleasantly surprised to land at a large color picture of carcasses still looking much like cows (i.e. tongues hanging out in death) hanging on hooks over a long trough of blood.

There's a parenthetical warning in the post next to the link (or was this added afterward?). And, I mean, it's called a slaughterhouse for a reason. There's nothing pretty about it anyway you cut it.
posted by deathpanels at 10:50 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


This investigation is a bold move on the part of the journalists to blow the whistle on this issue in Kansas itself. Kudos to them.
posted by jnnla at 10:55 AM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


To put "hundreds of preventable illnesses every year" into perspective, in-hospital deaths from medical error are 195,000 a year.

We all agree that shoddy beef processing sucks and should be reformed. But this is a bit like the left-wing equivalent of panic over getting killed by terrorists.
posted by Egg Shen at 10:58 AM on December 13, 2012 [11 favorites]


So what do they do with all that blood?

Total pulled-from-thin-air guess.... it wouldn't surprise me if it went back into cattle feed.
posted by Malor at 11:03 AM on December 13, 2012


So what do they do with all that blood?

Blood meal is a dry, inert powder made from blood used as a high-nitrogen fertilizer and a high protein animal feed. N = 13.25%, P = 1.0%, K = 0.6%. It is one of the highest non-synthetic sources of nitrogen. It usually comes from cattle as a slaughterhouse by-product.
posted by Egg Shen at 11:05 AM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Vampire cows. And we thought zombie sheep were bad.
posted by brundlefly at 11:08 AM on December 13, 2012


We split a quarter beef with family, raised by a neighbor and processed by a local butcher. I imagine we could easily split a half or whole cow with friends and no one would need a deep freezer! And it shore is nice to only buy beef once a year.

As I understand it, CWD in deer meat is only a theoretical risk to humans if you're eating the brain, spinal cord, or bone marrow. Of course, it obviously has the potential to mutate, but as of now, eating the meat of a healthy animal really doesn't pose a risk. In our area, they have been very aggressive in managing CWD.
posted by hannahelastic at 11:16 AM on December 13, 2012


So what do they do with all that blood?

Not so much anymore, but I can remember spicy blood sausage with raisins, and blood-and-tongue loaf lunchmeat. I know in home slaughter it is not wasted.
posted by ackptui at 11:17 AM on December 13, 2012


I was most interested in the section about the ways the industry is trying to control the debate nationally about beef and meat.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:25 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


As I ate my pronghorn guisada last night, I thought about this. I am glad that I have been able to get myself almost completely off the factory farmed meat. It tastes better and I know from where it came. Hell, it's healthier.
There has been a spate of articles recently about the rise of hunting amongst the liberal, urban populations (I think the NYT labeled them all as "hipsters.") I am not sure how I feel about this. I am liberal and urban, but I have had a hard time in the last 2 decades finding somewhere to hunt.
posted by Seamus at 11:30 AM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Blood meal is a dry, inert powder made from blood used as a high-nitrogen fertilizer and a high protein animal feed.

I had figured it wasn't just put down the drain, but I hadn't thought of fertilizer. I suppose that's actually a good thing, overall as opposed to it running into the water supply. Well, directly, anyway.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:31 AM on December 13, 2012


And today, as every day, I become more convinced of the genius and prescience of Upton Sinclair.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:32 AM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


That "bladed" beef makes me furious. Received wisdom for decades has been that whole muscle chops are largely safe if washed and cooked to a brown "sear" no matter how red it is inside because pathogens from the slaughtering process don't migrate from the surface. And now to find that they've been basically intentionally infecting whole muscle chops with hypodermic needles containing whatever the fuck is on the slaughterhouse floor? That is truly the stupidest fucking thing.

We usually get our meat from a local trusted butcher but occasionally buy whole muscle chops from the grocery but I can tell you that last practice is going to stop right fucking now.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:34 AM on December 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


Buying a half or quarter of beef or pork is cost effective, but only if someone can afford the upfront cost. My family doesn't find it cost effective for the amount of beef and pork we eat, but my neighbors do it @ $700 +/- for the half cow, butchered and @ $300 +/- for the half hog, butchered. I understand that as they purchase direct from a family rancher friend, $1,000 +/- is significantly less than what it would cost to purchase from a generic local farmer or rancher.

When you buy a half, there's a lot of sausage and ground beef in comparison to steak and bacon, which is one reason it is not cost effective to us. It seems sometimes that they have ground beef in everything they eat. But it works for my neighbor as they cook a lot of "down home Iowa" comfort dishes plus they get soup bones, liver, heart, tongue etc which adds value to their purchase.
posted by lstanley at 11:36 AM on December 13, 2012


Is there a consensus re whether the likes of the Niman Ranch people significantly alleviate these problems? That sort of mid-range, somewhere-between-factory-and-mom-and-pop stuff's ubiquitous around here, and they trade heavily on words like "organic," "natural," etc., but I'm always suspicious given that they just get their meat from a bunch of suppliers around the country. They make their protocols publicly available, but who knows what the reality is. Am I really just eating the same stuff Tyson sells?
posted by eugenen at 11:42 AM on December 13, 2012


Free-range, grass-fed. Locally raised and locally slaughtered. Ethical beef is also safe beef. Yes, it costs more, so make it a special occasion kind of thing. It tastes much better anyway.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:45 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just two weeks ago I was at a Michelin-starred restaurant that served a perfectly shaped médaillon of sturgeon. Looking at the split in the grain I immediately suspected that it wasn't a whole piece of fish; I was able to tease it in perfect half with a fork; I would guess that they used transglutaminase (meat glue) to combine two fillets, then punch out the oval shape.

I think there are things we do to food that are unjustified, given the health risks.
posted by polymodus at 11:48 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


As I constantly tell vegan friends, I will not apologize for being omnivorous, nor will I stop.

Do your vegan friends constantly ask you to apologize for eating meat and then to stop eating it? Because that sounds like it might be kind of annoying.
posted by box at 11:59 AM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Buying a half or quarter of beef or pork is cost effective, but only if someone can afford the upfront cost. My family doesn't find it cost effective for the amount of beef and pork we eat, but my neighbors do it @ $700 +/- for the half cow, butchered and @ $300 +/- for the half hog, butchered. I understand that as they purchase direct from a family rancher friend, $1,000 +/- is significantly less than what it would cost to purchase from a generic local farmer or rancher.

That's why I started "meatshare" groups in NYC and then Chicago. So I could find people to split cows with (at the time I was a single woman living in very small quarters). In general though, it was hard to find enough people to do a whole cow and the logistics could be daunting, so we mainly did lamb and goat, which are small enough for an average single person to take a half or quarter. A lot of people think they are gamey, but a lot of US small ruminants are just as good if not better than beef, a lot of the gamey stuff I've had is imported from NZ. I've been meaning to write up a guide to doing this, but haven't had time yet.
posted by melissam at 12:04 PM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


That "bladed" beef makes me furious.

Yeah, I just read that myself. Are there any restaurants that would go as far as to report whether their beef has been mechanically tenderized? Are there differences between a steak from Denny's, and say, a steak from a premium steakhouse like Ruth's Chris or Flemings?
posted by FJT at 12:24 PM on December 13, 2012


If you buy it by the quarter, fancy hippie beef isn't actually more expensive than industrially raised stuff at the grocery store. Our beef, cut and wrapped, ends up costing us about $4/lb. If I was willing to go over the mountains and drive it back, I could cut that cost in half. It does require you to live in an area where there is ranching, though.
posted by KathrynT at 12:36 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


This has been featured on the McClatchy Newspaper Group's McClatchyDC.com site (as well as its Twitter feed) for the last week. It's been providing me with good reading (and appetite suppression). Score one more for the most decent newspaper chain left.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:37 PM on December 13, 2012


This is why I buy my meat here. Cheaper than a grocery store, better tasting, and I can see the cows roaming the adjacent pasture as they're waiting to be slaughtered.
posted by slogger at 12:48 PM on December 13, 2012


This just goes to show that hard-working job creators are being strangled by regulation and need the boot of Big Government off of their neck.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:50 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I know we've had this discussion before but I think this bears pointing out:

The problem with the "just buy your beef in bulk from a responsible local rancher" solution is that it doesn't really scale. It costs more and it uses even more land per cow than industrial ranching does. Touting local grass-fed beef bought by the quarter or from a specialty butcher risks furthering the nutritional divide in this country between the wealthy who can afford to pay premiums for safe, healthy food and the poor who must buy cheap, dangerous, unhealthy food.

The solution is not for everyone to go out and buy safe, delicious, ethical beef, simply because there is not and never will be enough of that to go around at anything remotely resembling current consumption rates. Nor is it to simply tighten regulations on existing industrial ranching and slaughtering -- many of the problems we face are direct consequences of the scale and efficiencies required. The only solution, it seems clear to me, is to radically reform agricultural and food-processing practices in a way that significantly decreases per-capita meat consumption. How else do we solve the problem of providing safe, environmentally sustainable, ethical, healthy food to the 300,000,000 people in this country?

Our current system is already showing serious cracks that are due I think as much to the sheer scale and intensity of it as anything else. What a solution would look like I am not sure, nor am I optimistic about us getting things fixed before they get a lot worse (if ever) but I think it's clear that neither continuing to intensify our current practices nor attempting a shift to local small-scale ranching is going to provide the answer here. I just think it's worth bearing in mind that getting your beef by the quarter from a local, ethical source is never going to be anything but an extreme luxury as long as we are trying to feed 300,000,000+ people.
posted by Scientist at 12:56 PM on December 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


And bear in mind before pointing out that local beef isn't always that expensive that buying by the quarter requires things like a deep freezer (impossible for many poor urban apartment-dwellers) access to a rancher (which requires an investment of research, time, and travel that is also very difficult for the urban poor who make up a good chunk of this country) and also that the low price is due to those ranchers only serving a small, local market rather than a huge, national one. It also remains worse for the environment in terms of land use and resources invested.
posted by Scientist at 1:01 PM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


"I’m the king of Kansas City, no thanks, Omaha, thanks a lot."
--couldn't be helped.
posted by joecacti at 1:07 PM on December 13, 2012


The solution is not for everyone to go out and buy safe, delicious, ethical beef, simply because there is not and never will be enough of that to go around at anything remotely resembling current consumption rates. Nor is it to simply tighten regulations on existing industrial ranching and slaughtering -- many of the problems we face are direct consequences of the scale and efficiencies required. The only solution, it seems clear to me, is to radically reform agricultural and food-processing practices in a way that significantly decreases per-capita meat consumption. How else do we solve the problem of providing safe, environmentally sustainable, ethical, healthy food to the 300,000,000 people in this country?

Here is what happens when more people buy small-scale pastured beef (it would be more exaggerated if we banned current industrial modes of production for health/humane reasons):
1. Demand increases
2. Supply is constrained by land use and other inefficiencies of this mode of production
3. Price increases
4. People buy less beef, beef becomes a premium product, like it has been for much of human agrarian history. A steak once again is something to celebrate, not something to pick up casually at the grocery store.

I don't see how #4 is a tragedy, especially considering that the mainstream consensus is that low-meat diets might be better from a public health perspective. Seems to be the result you wanted anyway. I never said "everyone" should go out and buy better beef. That's not possible, but the scenario above is a better one than the current one. It always seemed strange to me that people would oppose a model like small-scale locker beef because it excludes the poor while also maintaining that it's good to eat less meat and that beef is not a necessary part of the diet.
posted by melissam at 1:11 PM on December 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


And bear in mind before pointing out that local beef isn't always that expensive that buying by the quarter requires things like a deep freezer (impossible for many poor urban apartment-dwellers) access to a rancher

Yeah, I know. It's not a good solution for everyone. Frankly I don't know what the perfect solution is; industrial farming is what keeps people from starving to death in this country, I'm pretty sure. However, surely one step is to make sure that industrial farming is actually SAFE, by empowering the regulatory bodies to actually regulate and enforce those regulations with meaningful penalties.

It's also worth noting that while I buy hippie beef, I still buy industrial chicken, which is just as cruel and dangerous as beef if not more so. I'm not holding myself up as some kind of exceptionally moral actor here. I do what I can; other people may have different abilities. Let's place the burden of the solution on the folks cutting corners to increase profit margins rather than on the folks trying to feed their families on their Wal-Mart paychecks.
posted by KathrynT at 1:13 PM on December 13, 2012


For immediate release to the poor: There is no longer enough sustainably raised beef for everyone. In our generosity, we, the rich, have decided to sacrifice our own health by reserving the remaining supply for ourselves. We trust you will appreciate your new, healthier diet. You're welcome!
posted by gilrain at 1:15 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


it uses even more land per cow than industrial ranching does.

This isn't really a problem, it's an opportunity. Here in New England, we have loads of excellent pasturage that was abandoned for the Midwest and then West as farms scaled up and things got industrial. We've got a lot of land sitting around doing nothing much to produce food. There are people like Brian Donohue promoting the idea of repasturing the region. We don't have to worship hyperefficiency to identify a median degree of practicality and utility that works. Emphasis on maximum efficiency!! per acre/calorie/dollar is what got us here

Does that solve the problem of scale? Not if people want to eat beef 3 times a week. But beef is a rich, resource-intensive food that should not be eaten 3 times a week. Does it solve the problem of ensuring a food supply for other regions? No, because other regions need to develop locally sensible solutions for their own regions.

We don't solve problems caused by scale with more and bigger scale. Relocalize food supply solutions.
posted by Miko at 1:16 PM on December 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


I completely understand where you (melissam, KathrynT, Miko) are coming from, and the points you make are totally reasonable. I would quibble a bit with the scenario you outline, melissam. I realize that we are now in hypothetical territory, and I'm not trying to start a fight, but try this on:

1. Demand (for safe, local, ethically-produced beef) increases
2. Supply is constrained by land use and other inefficiencies of this mode of production
3. Price increases
4. Industrial ranchers come up with a severely watered-down set of standards for "safe, ethically-raised" beef that make only minor improvements while being simultaneously unattainable by small ranchers, sponsor legislation in Congress to allow them to label it as such in supermarkets
5. Beef with new labeling rolled out in supermarkets as a premium product alongside regular beef, at a somewhat higher price
6. Consumers either continue buying conventional beef ("I can't afford that fancy stuff") or else buy the premium stuff and call it a day ("I'm doing what I can")
7. The status quo is preserved

I would argue that that is a lot more plausible and looks a lot more like what we've seen as the rule with "organic" and "local" produce in the last decade. I would also like to mention that this has already been happening with meat for years, minus the federal labeling.

l'm not really sure whether "relocalizing" meat production and repasturing the Northeast is going to be the solution either. Much of the Northeast is very heavily settled and it's a fairly small region of the country in general with very high land values. Ranching, on the scale that is required to preserve the status quo of meat consumption in this country, requires extremely large amounts of very cheap land to work.

I'm with those who say that there really isn't a way forward in this country that involves eating anything close to the amount of meat that we are eating now. The question, in my mind, is how long we are going to try to force the issue before we either see the light and enact radical, painful, industry-destroying reforms or else allow the system to collapse under its own weight.
posted by Scientist at 1:33 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tenderizing meat problems?

Problem solved.
posted by stormpooper at 1:39 PM on December 13, 2012


Much of the Northeast is very heavily settled and it's a fairly small region of the country in general with very high land values.

Right, and yet there is tons of open land. Just tons of it, though you have to get away from the coast and the major cities. Some land values are high, yes, but that's why the food/farm community is working on set-asides, tax incentives, land trusts, tenant farming arrangments, and so on to increase the percentage of land in active food production.

Ranching, on the scale that is required to preserve the status quo of meat consumption in this country, requires extremely large amounts of very cheap land to work.

Right, that's why we should not look to be ranching on that scale, and should not be seeking to preserve the status quo of meat consumption in this country. We can't afford it. And increasingly, we can't keep pushing off the indirect costs that make us think we can.
posted by Miko at 1:42 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, fair enough. We could probably have more small ranches in Vermont and New Hampshire and western Massachusetts and it wouldn't hurt anyone. It would be nice to have more agriculture in that part of the country, I think. (Though I hope that they aren't talking about cutting down forests for this, because I can't be having with that. The Northeast has already lost far too much of its forests.) It's not going to allow the current status quo to be preserved, but it might have a place in a new status quo involving much less overall meat consumption.

I don't see anyone arguing differently though, so I guess we're more or less in agreement.
posted by Scientist at 1:50 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


6. Consumers either continue buying conventional beef ("I can't afford that fancy stuff") or else buy the premium stuff and call it a day ("I'm doing what I can")

Yes, but the whole quibble you had was that everyone can't eat that way, my scenario was if demand for this product switched to everyone.

And ultimately my point was in terms of things like this l'm not really sure whether "relocalizing" meat production and repasturing the Northeast is going to be the solution either. Much of the Northeast is very heavily settled and it's a fairly small region of the country in general with very high land values. Ranching, on the scale that is required to preserve the status quo of meat consumption in this country, requires extremely large amounts of very cheap land to work.

That status quo levels of consumption + pastured beef = almost impossible right now, so talking about what would happen in a scenario with current levels of consumption using those production models is talking about something that just wouldn't happen. I have seen some models that involve re-wilding the currently de-populated great plains and running bison on them at pre-settlement levels, which could produce quite a lot of meat, but that's theoretical.

But
5. Beef with new labeling rolled out in supermarkets as a premium product alongside regular beef, at a somewhat higher price

has already happened. A survey showed that a pretty large number of consumers thought that beef labeled Premium Gold Angus was grass-fed and organic for example, which is not true at all, that label just indicates the bloodlines. "Natural" I see all the time and there are few standards for that. Upthread someone mentioned halal- often that is pastured meat, but that's a coincidence just based on production history of that model, which is rapidly changing now, and halal really only indicates a particular slaughter method, one which many EU countries have tried to ban or banned because of animal cruelty concerns.
posted by melissam at 2:11 PM on December 13, 2012


"Natural" I see all the time and there are few standards for that.

Grist on "Natural."
posted by Miko at 2:34 PM on December 13, 2012


Oil isn't getting cheaper, corn isn't going to be something you can feed a head of beef without making it sick and needing to be pumped full or antibiotics. There is lots of land and more underemployed, ambitious young people who are considering farming and know that doing it the conventional way isn't an option. The demand column and the supply column for locally-raised food will both continue to grow alongside each other.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:46 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Previously.
posted by Evilspork at 3:18 PM on December 13, 2012


I want to know why the farmers' market beef I bought in Seattle was the gnarliest, toughest, gristliest meat I've ever bought. As in, take a few bites and throw the whole shebang out. Not even my guests would eat it. I know the logic behind pastured cattle being more muscular/tougher muscle cuts/etc., but this was truly bad. I tried multiple times. And this stuff was 4x the price of supermarket beef, and not even edible. Truly outrageous. I only eat beef a few times a year. When I do eat it, I want to eat something that doesn't have the texture of a car tire.
posted by thelastcamel at 3:36 PM on December 13, 2012


I want to know why the farmers' market beef I bought in Seattle was the gnarliest, toughest, gristliest meat I've ever bought. As in, take a few bites and throw the whole shebang out. Not even my guests would eat it. I know the logic behind pastured cattle being more muscular/tougher muscle cuts/etc., but this was truly bad. I tried multiple times. And this stuff was 4x the price of supermarket beef, and not even edible. Truly outrageous. I only eat beef a few times a year. When I do eat it, I want to eat something that doesn't have the texture of a car tire.

Please let the producer know. Sometimes mistakes are made and they can only correct them if they get feedback. Since I started working with farmers to bring their products to a greater market, I've encountered a lot of problems, from incorrect aging of meat to poor finishing. In the process, I've probably eaten meat from hundreds of farms and found pretty wild variation. That's why Niman has done pretty well- they force standards on the farm and processing level that allow them to sell to restaurants. It's very hard to get the average farm to that level without those extensive standards and auditing.
posted by melissam at 3:44 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Space Coyote: "There is lots of land and more underemployed, ambitious young people who are considering farming and know that doing it the conventional way isn't an option. The demand column and the supply column for locally-raised food will both continue to grow alongside each other."

Until lobbyists get the USDA/FDA to shut them down.
posted by the_artificer at 3:44 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why do the comment threads on meat articles always devolve into lengthy lists of sanctimonious proclamations? Fifty folks stating where they source their beef is not much of a conversation.
posted by blue t-shirt at 4:05 PM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


I want to know why the farmers' market beef I bought in Seattle was the gnarliest, toughest, gristliest meat I've ever bought.

Couple possibilities. One is definitely product quality, so do pursue that. Ask the farmer about it. The second is that pasture-finished meat is often tougher, because the animal is walking around using their muscles, unlike the situation on a feedlot, and it's also less likely to be as thoroughly marbled with fat. So different cooking methods are often necessary. If you like a rare, buttery steak that melts in your mouth, that is not going to be as easy to produce. The extreme version of that texture results in part from corn feeding and the animal's inactivity. So if what you want is a classic steak cut, you can do things like brine or marinate it, and pound it to tenderize. You know how every kitchen 50 years ago had a hammerlike meat tenderizer? This is why. Braising and roasting are other things you can try. When you go this route one thing you kind of need to do is rediscover the variety of kitchen treatments you do to different cuts of meat to give them optimal quality. You can find loads of helpful stuff by Googling...here's an example.
posted by Miko at 4:25 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


My favorite line on "natural": Even E. Coli is “natural.”
posted by letitrain at 4:55 PM on December 13, 2012


I stopped eating beef when I read that George Bush's answer to suspected mad cow outbreaks in the U.S. was to just scale back testing. Haven't read anything about Obama reversing that policy.
posted by any major dude at 5:36 PM on December 13, 2012


Total pulled-from-thin-air guess.... it wouldn't surprise me if it went back into cattle feed.

That's against the law in the US.

My pulled-from-thin-air guess is that it's used for flavoring in dog food.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:52 PM on December 13, 2012


Even E. Coli is “natural.”

Hell, cyanide is natural.

You can Google for the different "by-products" of meatpacking derived from blood. Cow's blood is used for feeds, to process into amino acids, vitamins, and food additives, in sausage, etc. etc.
posted by Miko at 5:53 PM on December 13, 2012


You know, there are good evolutionary reasons to be squeamish about animal carcasses.

From when we were hunter-gatherers on the savannah, tracking of a flock of corgettes by their spoor or chucking spears at an enraged muskmelon.
posted by sebastienbailard at 6:14 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm in a position where I'd love to buy hippie beef but I have no idea where I'd even find it. Here in the wilds of Long Island, we have neither ranches nor farmer's markets, and even at the crunchy-granola grocery chains, I have yet to see beef with "Grass-fed" anywhere on the label.

It's hard to even get a farm share out here -- most of the farms out east just ship straight to the city and pass by the eastern suburbs entirely. I've only ever found one CSA with a pickup spot less than about an hour away.
posted by Andrhia at 6:21 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm in a position where I'd love to buy hippie beef but I have no idea where I'd even find it. Here in the wilds of Long Island, we have neither ranches nor farmer's markets, and even at the crunchy-granola grocery chains, I have yet to see beef with "Grass-fed" anywhere on the label.

Contact Ulla she lives in Long Island now and her family's farm is one of the best I've ever bought from.
posted by melissam at 7:12 PM on December 13, 2012


Long Island Grass-fed Beef
Find a Farmers Market - Long Island Farmers Bureau
Eat Wild NY
Rustic Roots Delivery - Organic Grass Fed Delivery in New York and Long Island
Long Island Fresh
Long Island Livestock, Edible East End

I don't know if any of these will work for you, but once you get into this stuff it does take a fair amount of research and casual asking around. It also sometimes takes resource-building, when the resource you want doesn't exist in your area yet. There aren't always consumer-ready options because this is a new movement and a new (but growing) market.

One of the things we get used to is the habit of convenience-driven grocery-store shopping: spending smaller amounts a few times a week to get a little bit of food. When and if you can, going the chest-freezer route is a great leap to make. You need (a) room to get a chest freezer, (b) money to get a chest freezer, and (c) money to buy a bunch of meat at once, but once you make that investment, you have a very steady, high-quality meat supply at your fingertips at a crazy low portion cost. And one of the best things about it is that you only have to shop once - you pick up your 100 pounds of meat, or however much, and maybe you had to drive an hour to get it, but you only do it once a year. So once you move from the model of "they don't have what I want in my store where I shop every other day, so I can't get it" to "how can I figure out a new way to build a good food supply for myself," your whole orientation as a consumer of food changes, and new options open up. I fully recogize not everybody has the money, space, transportation, time, etc to take advantage of this option, but for the many who do, it is a shift in approach that pays major dividends.
posted by Miko at 7:17 PM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I stopped eating shrimp after the BP oil spill. After reading even part of this, I think I might have to stop eating most beef, too. I'm not to the point where I'll stop eating chicken and pork, but...if I read more about their production, I'd probably find that I should.

Man. Fuck the big meat producers.
posted by limeonaire at 7:34 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, despite the risks talked about in this report (which is really kind of amazingly good both in content and web design), foodborne illnesses are way down over the last decade, according to the CDC.
posted by R343L at 9:38 PM on December 13, 2012


Foodborne illness is a dramatic risk. But even if it's a low low risk, it still doesn't make the conditions, the economics, the labor issues, the food-security issues, the environmental issues, the humane-animal-case isses, etc. acceptable to me.
posted by Miko at 9:51 PM on December 13, 2012


This really is a very well presented and thoroughly researched report. For a city news outlet, rather than a national one, it's even more impressive.
posted by Myeral at 4:00 AM on December 14, 2012


Wild deer still could have CWD, which is the equivalent of mad cow disease. I'd feel even more squeamish about that, because there isn't even the illusion of random testing and sampling for hunted animals.

o_O

This program enables Wisconsin deer hunters to have their deer screened for CWD by directly submitting their deer head to the WVDL.

Carefully selected areas will be tested for CWD each year.

CWD: A 10-year retrospective


Reducing the CWD Risk

It's kind of a thing here. There's even a contingent of right-wing folks that invent conspiracy theories about the DNR's CWD management policies.
posted by nTeleKy at 8:23 AM on December 14, 2012


hwyengr: “Wild deer still could have CWD, which is the equivalent of mad cow disease. I'd feel even more squeamish about that, because there isn't even the illusion of random testing and sampling for hunted animals.”

Yeah, not to pile on, but nTeleKy is right; as someone whose father works for the Forest Service and whose mother works for the Department of Wildlife (in Colorado), this is pretty much (thankfully) untrue. Wild deer (and elk) populations are closely watched in many ways. This is one of them. They are certainly tested regularly for CWD. It's not like it's hard to track, either, since the DOW is in close contact with hunters who can provide regular samples.
posted by koeselitz at 9:03 AM on December 14, 2012


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