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Where's The Beef?
March 3, 2008 8:12 PM   Subscribe

Where does recalled beef go? Last month, the largest beef recall in U.S. history (143 million pounds) occured after the Humane Society released footage of sick cows at a meat processing plant in California. Before it was recalled, most of the beef had already been sent to school lunch programs and other public nutrition programs.
posted by amyms (59 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Burp..
posted by longsleeves at 9:03 PM on March 3, 2008


With a few million pounds of beef lying around, you invent the granddaddy of Baconators.
posted by crapmatic at 9:19 PM on March 3, 2008


I'm outside of the US, and have not followed this too closely yet. I clicked on this out of curiousity to see what did happen to all that beef. After mentioning what a few schools did, they wandered off topic and never finished answering, so I followed their google search link to other articles and came to this article, which suggests that much of the beef already went, and is possibly still going, to consumers (they also say that only 37 of the 143 million went to schools):

“When a recall is undertaken, big buyers are told that meat they purchased is part of the recall, but those buyers aren’t required to notify their customers,” said CSPI staff attorney Sarah Klein. “Consumers hearing of the recall may not realize that the ground beef in their freezer is the recalled product just sold with a different label.”

The USDA states in its recall notice that the recall covers bulk packages of beef shipped to the wholesalers that are not available for direct purchase by consumers, which the CSPI suggested could be misleading because the bulk packages being recalled in the end will be re-packed under different brand names and sold to consumers. Because of this, some consumers may still be buying the recalled beef from sick cows.

According to CSPI, the government agency has a policy of not identifying a recalling firm's immediate purchasers because the agency considers the names of repackagers confidential and not subject to disclosure. Additionally, labels for such products will not bear the “336” establishment number, which is the specific identity for Hallmark/Westland Meat Packaging Co. As a result, consumers may not know what they have purchased may be the meat being recalled.

posted by p3t3 at 9:26 PM on March 3, 2008 [6 favorites]


This is why I don't eat beef in the USA any more.
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:37 PM on March 3, 2008


More importantly. Where do the dead cats go?
posted by jeblis at 9:44 PM on March 3, 2008


"The government agency has a policy of not identifying a recalling firm's immediate purchasers because the agency considers the names of repackagers confidential and not subject to disclosure"

Right-on gov! Protecting the midget meat-Davids against the Goliath of consumer activism.
posted by phyrewerx at 9:48 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Seriously infinitywaltz, I try to avoid any beef here in the US as much as I can as well. Well if it's raised locally or free range I don't mind so much. Prions punching holes through your brain is a scary image.
posted by parallax7d at 9:54 PM on March 3, 2008


"The government agency has a policy of not identifying a recalling firm's immediate purchasers because the agency considers the names of repackagers confidential and not subject to disclosure"

When I become president, public health will trump confidentiality when a business screws up like this.
posted by zippy at 9:59 PM on March 3, 2008


Fark it.

Anyone have a plausible and executable solution to this madness (corporations are 'now'* fucking with our food) - like, how to stop this/these practice/practices?

Good grief. I wonder what the CxO's of the major ag comps eat,.

.... and what they feed their families.
posted by porpoise at 10:04 PM on March 3, 2008


Anyone have a plausible and executable solution to this madness

Local, naturally raised, organic, grass-fed beef processed in a regional slaughterhouse with no feedlots.

Or some form of vegetarianism.
posted by Miko at 10:23 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I assume the tainted beef goes to the same place where "Patriots Super Bowl Champs 08" T-shirts go.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:58 PM on March 3, 2008


Anyone have a plausible and executable solution to this madness

Nobody really seems to care, so apparently a "solution" is not desired. If it freaks you out so much, I'm sure you can find suppliers who will make your food the way you like it.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 11:12 PM on March 3, 2008


That’s a rather good question, where does the recalled meat go ? I supposeed it was all disposed of in rendering plants or transformed, unless there was any reason to believe it may contain some prion, but it’s hard to know where it actually goes. P3T3 quoted:
According to CSPI, the government agency has a policy of not identifying a recalling firm's immediate purchasers because the agency considers the names of repackagers confidential and not subject to disclosure. Additionally, labels for such products will not bear the “336” establishment number, which is the specific identity for Hallmark/Westland Meat Packaging Co. As a result, consumers may not know what they have purchased may be the meat being recalled.
Now that is incredible as it makes establishment tracking pointless. How is one supposed to inform the consumer that batch number 123 from plant ABC is to be considered dangerous ? What in hell makes the confidentiality so important that traceability should succumb to it ?
Additionally, we should consider the false security effect of having a tracing system installed when the sampling control system shows serious shortcomings, such as the practical possibility of not doing the proper sampling. I don’t have any shadow of doubt that some sociopathic asshole would soon find out this security shortcoming and exploit it , or maybe grease some inspector or politician with money which by definition doesn’t smell.
Hopefully someday each buyer will be able to do his own analysis inexpensively, but one wonders what could be done until that day comes.
If it freaks you out so much, I'm sure you can find suppliers who will make your food the way you like it.
Not really. Any supplier has an interest in selling you what you ask for, but no interest in helping you figure out if what you are given is actually what you demanded, especially if that gives the opportunity to give you something less expensive , therefore obtaining a greater profit. Obviously one should, therefore, buy an investigation technique as well, maybe from another company, assuming one inexpensive enough exists. Yet again the very same process can be corrupted up to the point in which anybody can notice they are being sold a rotten unedible carcass.
That’s maybe a little pessimistic, but certainly not far from one set of possible and likely behaviors, considering the present obsession with short term profit.
posted by elpapacito at 3:10 AM on March 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


If it freaks you out so much, I'm sure you can find suppliers who will make your food the way you like it.

Sure, Steve. Thanks for putting your two cents in.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:38 AM on March 4, 2008


Now that is incredible as it makes establishment tracking pointless. How is one supposed to inform the consumer that batch number 123 from plant ABC is to be considered dangerous ?

Yeah, that's what I was thinking when I read the article. I'm still half doubting some of the facts in that article simply because it implies a system that would defeat the whole purpose of tracking systems, recalls, etc. all for the sake of cheaper business costs. Looking at some of the other news stories (via google news), some (wapo, another) are not quite as jaw-dropping, but still not comforting. At least it sounds like officials are making efforts to go down the purchasing train to lower level consumers to account for all the beef. I guess it still remains to be seen how successful their efforts are/were.
posted by p3t3 at 3:46 AM on March 4, 2008


Here in the UK we know all about how to reassure the media about how safe beef is - just feed it to your young daughter on camera. (John Gummer, Minister for agriculture, 1990)
posted by rongorongo at 4:02 AM on March 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Y'know...if we would just bite the bullet and finish completely privatizing the whole food inspection process, you'd see these pesky reports of tainted meat disappear practically overnight.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:11 AM on March 4, 2008 [4 favorites]


Yummy, Yummy, Yummy,
I got love in my tummy,
And I feel like a-lovin you:
Love, you're such a sweet thing,
Good enough to eat thing
And that's just a-what I'm gonna do.
Ooh love, to hold ya,
Ooh love, to kiss ya,
Ooh love, I love it so.
Ooh love, you're sweeter,
Sweeter than sugar.
Ooh love, I wont let you go.

Yummy, Yummy, Yummy,
I got love in my tummy,
And as silly as it may seem;
The lovin' that you re giving,
is what keeps me livin'
And your love is like
Peaches and cream.
Kind-a like sugar,
Kind-a like spices,
Kind-a like, like what you do.
Kind-a sounds funny.
But love,honey
Honey. I love you.

Yummy, Yummy, Yummy,
I got love in my tummy,
That your love can satisfy;
Love, you're such a sweet thing,
Good enough to eat thing
And sweet thing, that ain't no lie.
I love to hold ya,
Oh love, to kiss ya,
Ooh love, I love it so.
Ooh love, you're sweeter,
Sweeter than sugar.
Ooh love, I wont let you go.
posted by cytherea at 4:54 AM on March 4, 2008


If you can't have a conversation with the butcher, why are you buying the meat?
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:54 AM on March 4, 2008


Where does recalled beef go?
I picture this as a super weepy ballad with a big schmaltzy string section and possibly Sting on the lead vocals.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:01 AM on March 4, 2008


rongorongo: John Gummer got screwed over there. It was the press who demanded he feed the food to his daughter, at which point he was faced with two possible headlines the next day - "Government minister plays politics with his daughter's health", or "Government minister insists beef is safe, but won't let his own daughter eat it".
posted by Leon at 5:10 AM on March 4, 2008


I assume the tainted beef goes to the same place where "Patriots Super Bowl Champs 08" T-shirts go.

Nicaragua?

But seriously,* did Oprah teach us nothing?

*(OK, not really...well, maybe kinda)
posted by kittyprecious at 6:00 AM on March 4, 2008


If you can't have a conversation with the butcher

Butchers in many shops and certainly grocery stores can be very uninformed about the beef handling and where it came from. Do you mean processor/slaughterer, or fabricator (butcher)?
posted by Miko at 6:36 AM on March 4, 2008


This is what happened in Oregon, puruant to an Oregon Dept. of Education advisory below:

Notice of Recall Action – February 20, 2008

All Hallmark/Westland products, including further processed products containing any amount of Hallmark/Westland meat, must be destroyed and cannot be used or reconditioned for human or animal consumption.

Due dates
February 27, 2008 - Final count of product to be destroyed on “Location of Recalled Beef Products” form and submitted to ODE
March 14, 2008 – Destruction and disposal complete and “Destruction Verification and Reimbursement Form” submitted to ODE with receipts for reimbursement
Destruction and Disposal
To dispose of 50 cases or less of recalled products:
• Done at the School or central site
• Remove from all packaging
• Render unfit for human consumption by thawing and dousing with bleach
• Coordinate with garbage pick up so products are not in the dumpster overnight
• Destruction must be witnessed by a person of authority, (such as a food service director) and one other person.
• Each witness must sign the destruction verification form.
• The type of product, quantity, and destruction method must be noted on the form.

To dispose of more than 50 cases:
More than 50 cases (but less than a truckload) of product must be taken to a landfill, incinerated, or sent for inedible rendering. Inedible rendering means turning it into garden fertilizer, or the like.
• Make an appointment with local environmental health specialist and landfill
• Destruction of these larger quantities must be witnessed by a representative of the local health department and an official from the landfill, incineration plant, or rendering plant.
• The destruction verification form must be signed by these two witnesses.
• The type of product, quantity, and destruction method must be noted on the form.

Reimbursable Expenses
The following are reimbursable expenses:
• Transportation
• Destruction
• Processing fee for Service
All reimbursable expenses MUST have accompanying receipts.

Replacement
USDA will pursue every avenue available to provide replacement of raw commodity.
posted by Danf at 6:41 AM on March 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


If you can't have a conversation with the butcher...

The "butchers" at most mega-marts are just slightly-higher-paid stockboys who are allowed to occasionally run the grinder. Maybe the band-saw when necessary. Most of the meat arrives pre-cut from the processing plant and all they have to do is lay it out in the meat case. Most of the purchasing is done at the chain's home office.

It's damned difficult finding an actual butcher in anything other than the largest cities. And then they're almost guaranteed to be priced out of the average-joe's comfort zone.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:49 AM on March 4, 2008


Our local landfill had a "Beef Day," in which agencies showed up at an appointed time, to dump their Westland beef in a hole and have it buried, and witnessed by a State Dept. of Health inspector.

It was quite an event.
posted by Danf at 6:49 AM on March 4, 2008


Well if it's raised locally or free range I don't mind so much. Prions punching holes through your brain is a scary image.

Yeah, because out on the range those prions only attack the deer and the antelope via chronic wasting disease.

If you can't have a conversation with the butcher, why are you buying the meat?

If you can't have a converstaion with the picker, why are you buying fruit. Oh, yeah, because that is how modern food consumption works. Where do you live in El Dorado or Xanadu where all the bounty of the Earth is just waiting outside your door? Stuff gets grown, processed and shipped to consumers, period, that goes for meat, vegetables, fruit, cars, clothes, even houses these days. No one, no one is off the grid.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:50 AM on March 4, 2008


The landfill?
posted by lyam at 6:51 AM on March 4, 2008


They pack it all back into the cows and send them on their way with an apology.

No, Seriously.
posted by davemee at 7:49 AM on March 4, 2008


Seriously infinitywaltz, I try to avoid any beef here in the US as much as I can as well. Well if it's raised locally or free range I don't mind so much. Prions punching holes through your brain is a scary image.

But let's understand the odds here. If you eat a single cut from a single cow, your odds of CJD are very, very, very low. Of the tens of millions of head of cattle in this country, only a handful have been found with Mad Cow. We're talking Powerball sort of odds of getting CJD.

Ground beef is a different story. And in that case, your odds rise the more pre-packaged it looks. Those big tubes of ground beef at the store are made up of bits of many, many cows. Thus, they're not only CJD traps, they also are involved with listeria and E.Coli recalls as well. OTOH, grind your own meat at home and you're dealing with only the cuts of meat you're grinding.

My one issue with all this is that I hear people talking like food safety now is worse than it's ever been. 125 years ago, they were still shipping milk into New York in open vats. 75 years ago, trichinosis was still rampant in pork. Food purity and food safety laws have worked so well most Americans avoid offal. Try finding a frozen steak and kidney pie in an American grocery store. Or, for that matter, gizzards.
posted by dw at 8:07 AM on March 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


It goes straight to the Treasury Department of the Kingdom of Loathing.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 8:20 AM on March 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Turkey noodle bake!
posted by elwoodwiles at 8:28 AM on March 4, 2008


Before it was recalled, most of the beef had already been sent to school lunch programs and other public nutrition programs.

I'm not defending the beef industry here, but this statement is a little fecitious. The schools were the first to remove the meat from the human food path, much faster than supermarkets/fast food. In fact I heard about this from my wife (a teacher) at least two weeks before the mainstream media picked it up. If anything the schools should be commended by acting quickly.
posted by Big_B at 8:41 AM on March 4, 2008


Of the tens of millions of head of cattle in this country, only a handful have been found with Mad Cow. We're talking Powerball sort of odds of getting CJD.
That's correct , but consider that a nationwide set may not be the one on which we should calculate the odds. Even if I concur that the whole set shows just an handful over millions, which in terms of frequency is very close to nothing and "good enough" , one could argue that the odds for the persons who ate the cows coming from an "prion affected" breeding farm were much much higher. I think we should also consider the number of farms that were affected, as the higher the number, the higher the probability of getting BSE.

Damn my lack of exercise in statistics, but some neuron is telling me we should Bayes that.
posted by elpapacito at 9:12 AM on March 4, 2008


The morning news has a summary here.
posted by phyrewerx at 9:55 AM on March 4, 2008


Of the tens of millions of head of cattle in this country, only a handful have been found with Mad Cow.

And not only what elpapacito said, but you don't find BSE unless you test for it. Only a tiny, tiny fraction of herds are tested for it; agribusiness and food lobbies have worked hard to limit legislation requiring wider-spread testing.

This USDA press release from 2006 says that going forward, "the ongoing BSE surveillance program will sample approximately 40,000 animals each year. "

This USDA stats page says that the US slaughtered 34.3 million cattle last year.

The "latest updates" link on the USDA page goes up to 7/20/2006.

It doesn't make me feel safe.

Most people who study the food system believe that BSE is already well established in the US. The "downer cows" on the recalled beef video were not an anomaly - reports indicate that they're common at large-scale feedlot processors. When the USDA inspectors are there -- very, very, very rarely - plant behavior changes temporarily. This recent situation penetrated public consciousness not because it's unusual for downer cows to be processed into food, but because someone posing as a plant worker took an undercover video and got it to the press. It's likely they could have gotten similar video at the other major plants. This event reflects the reality that Eric Schlosser discussed in his Fast Food Nation.
posted by Miko at 10:23 AM on March 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wait, so in this giant beef recall, no beef was actually recalled, it just had some paperwork shuffled around a bit before being sold for human consumption as usual?!
WTF?

Am I missing something?
posted by -harlequin- at 10:58 AM on March 4, 2008


"Of the tens of millions of head of cattle in this country, only a handful have been found with Mad Cow. We're talking Powerball sort of odds of getting CJD."

I wish I could source this for you... I really do, but I can't at the moment... so here goes.

A couple of years back, I was in classes at the Health Science Center/TCOM in Ft. Worth... specifically taking a course in current healthcare issues. Through this course, various field experts would come in and lecture about their field of study. One such topic was vCJD.

He told us that they really don't have a clue how prevalent vCJD actually is, or how long it has really been an issue. Prion diseases take ages to actually exhibit symptoms. Typical prion-related CJD can take up to 60 years to show. Symptomatically, CJD acts almost identical to Alzheimer's, with vCJD (the variant) being a little more random (read, it can work faster...sometimes as fast as 2 years).

Now, autopsies are not routinely performed on Alzheimer's patients unless requested by the family, and you can't usually tell the difference between CJD and Alzheimer's without looking at the brain tissue.

SO...I may have some things slightly off (my courses were a couple of years ago), but the general thrust of this stands. -- "mad cow" may have been around a hell of a lot longer than most people want to think about, and may be a lot more prevalent as well.
posted by kaseijin at 11:21 AM on March 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, forgot to put in there... Alzheimer's Disease has been on a steady rise over the last 30 years, which syncs up eerily well with the wholesale industrialization of our food supply that really started to take off in the 1970's. The elephant in the room here is how much of that increase is actually Alzheimer's?
posted by kaseijin at 11:23 AM on March 4, 2008


Alzheimer's Disease has been on a steady rise over the last 30 years, which syncs up eerily well with the wholesale industrialization of our food supply that really started to take off in the 1970's.
That’s an interesting piece of news for me. I would like to see statistics on Alzheimer and CJ coming from other countries, especially the ones in which there is reduced consumption of cow meat , like India for instance. I guess it is an undisputed fact that the use of lead pipes have caused severe lead poisoning in Roman population , while I wonder how much lead poisoning instances have decreased since the year in which lead was completely removed from car fuel. Similarly, I remember hearing about Teflon being accumulated into body fat by cooking food into Teflon coated devices and I wonder how much mercury can be absorbed by regularly eating fish for years, Minatama industrial terrorism being the most egregious and gruesome display of what mercury can do to humans .

What seems to lack here is systematic warning of public ; I wonder how many actually heard about the food recall at all , regardless of the source ? I can tell you how much advertisement can drill an idea into our heads and how much news talk about irrelevant aspect of celebrity lifes, but I had to look up the fact that there are still 1400 deaths during work in my country each year.
posted by elpapacito at 1:02 PM on March 4, 2008


That's very interesting kaseijin. How does it sit with the latest on dementia rates?
posted by Pollomacho at 1:04 PM on March 4, 2008


To be honest, Pollo, I'm not sure. I don't know if anybody is -- that was the basic gist of that particular speaker's argument.

There can be little doubt that some of that increase was, in fact, Alzheimer's... probably aided by all the things that we hear aid that (aluminum, etc). But with a disease model in which one variant can take 40-60 years to gestate, the progression and path of the disease are not fully understood, and autopsies are not routinely performed, how do you go about proving what's what? At some point, you just have to admit uncertainty and boggle at the correlations. Perhaps the actual Alzheimer's component of that number is actually declining? Certainly, we're more aware of the aluminum thing these days.

I would hazard an uneducated guess that had the vCJD (as opposed to CJD) which acts faster and stronger never cropped up, we would likely still view CJD as purely a rare genetic disorder.

Unfortunately, my medical education did not progress much past that, so I can't really speak to what the latest is. I ended up withdrawing voluntarily after the semester in which I took this course, despite doing OK on all of my coursework. Medical education institutions can be very...um...alienating places to students who don't come directly from biology or chemistry backgrounds and are therefore perceived as outsiders -- regardless of credential (in my particular case, 4.0 pre-reqs and a 96th percentile MCAT score... you would think that would be enough). You end up being marginalized and pushed out by students and faculty alike. ("Oh....you studied art....I see.... what are you doing here, again?")

I suppose that in the end, I could only take so much of that and went back to design. I'm a bit bitter. =/
posted by kaseijin at 1:40 PM on March 4, 2008


Pollo: nice point, found out the article (PDF)
Compared with the 1993 cohort, the 2002
cohort was slightly older (mean, 77.8 vs 77.5 years), had
significantly more years of education, and had higher net
worth (in constant 1993 dollars). Individuals with less than
a high school diploma (12 years of education) comprised
42% of the sample in 1993 but only 31% in 2002. On
average, individuals in the 2002 cohort had almost 1 more
year of education compared with those in the 1993 cohort
(11.8 vs 11.0 years).
Ok neurons are spinning ; on average 1 more year of education should signify that the mean number of years of education for the two sets differs of +- 1 year. Mean doesn't tell us much about the distribution as it is quite sensible to extremes, and doesn't tell us much about the quality of the education either , but education quality may affect brain as well, as I doubt that time spent in an educating environment is reliable indicator of how much brain was "used" so to say.

Ceteris paribus, +- 1 year variation of the mean suggest there was a little increase in the quantity of education ; considering a curriculum of at least 18 years of study , but more probably 24 with college, that would be roughly a 4-5% quantitative increase.
However, at the time this
threshold is finally crossed, brain pathology is more advanced
in those with more education, resulting in a more
rapid cognitive decline [22,26] and greater risk of mortality
[22,27].
Now that's curious, it prevents but it doesn't protect , on the contrary it quickens the damage.

As for food quality, I haven't found anything in the study ? Truth be told I just searched the PDF for "food" and "alimentantion" and had 0 matches.
posted by elpapacito at 2:10 PM on March 4, 2008


Should have been on preview: kaseijin you may have reason to be a bit bitter :) if anything that kind of treatement is evidence that some student may know all about how neurons work, but fail at using them !
posted by elpapacito at 2:12 PM on March 4, 2008


Oh, forgot to put in there... Alzheimer's Disease has been on a steady rise over the last 30 years, which syncs up eerily well with the wholesale industrialization of our food supply that really started to take off in the 1970's. The elephant in the room here is how much of that increase is actually Alzheimer's?

But it also syncs up with the transition of bottling and canning away from glass and steel and more towards aluminum, which has been linked to Alzheimer's in the past as well.

And there are plenty of ongoing studies about Alzheimer's here in this country, with plenty of PETs and CATs and MRIs being run. Heck, our school has an Alzheimer's center. If CJD is on the rise and accounting for a bump in dementia, I think we would have noticed -- or at least begun to notice it.
posted by dw at 3:26 PM on March 4, 2008


But it also syncs up with the transition of bottling and canning away from glass and steel and more towards aluminum, which has been linked to Alzheimer's in the past as well.

...which is a very valid point.

And there are plenty of ongoing studies about Alzheimer's here in this country, with plenty of PETs and CATs and MRIs being run. Heck, our school has an Alzheimer's center. If CJD is on the rise and accounting for a bump in dementia, I think we would have noticed -- or at least begun to notice it.

I'm onboard with that, too, for the most part. The neurologist lecturing our class was pretty adamant, however, that CJD can still be easily mistaken for AD up until the point of looking at physical brain tissue (and this was his specific field of research). In the end though, I don't know for myself -- all I can do is relay what one neurologist related to our class, and even that is 3 years old at this point. These opinions and theories have a tendency to change with a quickness as new information becomes available.
posted by kaseijin at 3:40 PM on March 4, 2008


This USDA press release from 2006 says that going forward, "the ongoing BSE surveillance program will sample approximately 40,000 animals each year. "

This USDA stats page says that the US slaughtered 34.3 million cattle last year.

The "latest updates" link on the USDA page goes up to 7/20/2006.

It doesn't make me feel safe.


Well, given that the BSE surveying is inadequate, I can understand that. But the odds are still much higher you'll get E.coli than you'll get CJD. The odds are higher still that beef consumption increase your odds of heart attack and stroke.

I'm reminded of the Odwalla incident, where kids were sickened by E.coli in unpasteurized juice. Unpasteurized was healthier, you see. None of those nutrients destroyed by the evil industrial plants and their boilers.

All it took was some cattle grazing in an apple orchard to kill a baby and sicken dozens of others.

Are our factory farm practices putting people's lives at risk? Yes. But the risks need to be understood here. We can't all live on $20/lb grass-fed fully organic beef that's been lovingly massaged and killed with only the kindest of care. We have to find the balance between the boutique and the factory.
posted by dw at 3:44 PM on March 4, 2008


I really hate this post, because I can't stop singing it to the tune of "Where Do Broken Hearts Go?"
posted by darksasami at 4:17 PM on March 4, 2008


We have to find the balance between the boutique and the factory.
That looks like a false dilemma. It is exactly by choosing factories that approximate "boutique" level that consumer exercise pressure toward improvement ; if we were to maintain a dynamic balance, we'd probably not improve.

Granted, some people want improvement to be happen instantly and that's not as easy as it may seem to some, but we should also consider that the very same ignorance behind unreasonable demands and expectations of consumers also fuels the idea of cutting corners, corrupting officials, r lobbying poor standards and spinning reality by public realtions, just because it seems to be less expensive than doing research and the limited liability provides a nice cover.
posted by elpapacito at 4:36 PM on March 4, 2008


Are our factory farm practices putting people's lives at risk? Yes. But the risks need to be understood here. We can't all live on $20/lb grass-fed fully organic beef that's been lovingly massaged and killed with only the kindest of care. We have to find the balance between the boutique and the factory.

This misses the point - the USA has reasonably safe food production methods and standards that are approved, required by law, and easily allow factory production. These standards are entirely workable but are largely (almost universally?) unenforced and ignored. You seem to be suggesting that $20/lb beef is the realistic alternative to fuck-you-and-your-safety-and-your-laws--we'll-do-as-we-please corner-cutting. This is simply not true.

(Furthermore, I suspect the financial gains that drive this institutionalized illegal corner-cutting, are small enough that if the industry cleaned up its act overnight, and the added compliance costs passed directly to the consumer, few would even raise an eyebrow amidst the today's normal background inflation).
posted by -harlequin- at 4:56 PM on March 4, 2008


You seem to be suggesting that $20/lb beef is the realistic alternative to fuck-you-and-your-safety-and-your-laws--we'll-do-as-we-please corner-cutting. This is simply not true.

I'm not suggesting it. But what I see is that it's either-or now. You either get it from a vac-pack from a Midwest slaughterhouse, or you get it from the cooler of a farmer's market vendor. There just doesn't seem to be a "middle ground" here. Either you have the scale, or you have the story.

(Furthermore, I suspect the financial gains that drive this institutionalized illegal corner-cutting, are small enough that if the industry cleaned up its act overnight, and the added compliance costs passed directly to the consumer, few would even raise an eyebrow amidst the today's normal background inflation).

After their E.coli debacle, JITB started putting their inspectors on-site at the slaughterhouses and packing plants and told the plants either they lived by their stiffer-than-USDA rules (which included being able to stop production if they found anything unsafe in the meat) or they lost JITB as a customer.

JITB passed the cost onto their customers. 10 cents a burger. Their sales, though, returned to pre-E.coli levels.

(I'm not sure they still have the program in place, but I do know that McDonalds has done something similar.)
posted by dw at 5:22 PM on March 4, 2008


We can't all live on $20/lb grass-fed fully organic beef that's been lovingly massaged and killed with only the kindest of care. We have to find the balance between the boutique and the factory.

Oh, I totally agree. The problem is really that we now think beef ought to be cheap, rather than treating it as the resource-gobbling health-comprimising luxury food that it is. I am very far from affording good beef (not really $20, but yes, $8 a pound from my local supplier) more than once a month. But eating beef once a month seems about right. Poultry, fish, beans, nuts, and grains are good sources of protein as well, with much less impact. There's a lot to be said - for the budget, the economy, the food system, and personal health - for spending most of your time lower on the food chain and treating beef and pork as the luxury goods they are. There's a place for them, but they should share that place with champagne, truffles, and fine chocolate. Beef as a daily staple is not good for anybody - cow, person, land, environment, public health.
posted by Miko at 5:39 PM on March 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, and also, if we divest from the mega-processing plants and invest in local meat-processing systems, the price disparity will narrow. We'll never get responsibly raised meat as artificially cheap as processor beef, but it won't have to be as large a gap as we see today if we rebuild the more regionally based supply systems that existed in this country throughout most of its history. Not as cheap as processors, but not as expensive as boutique, and definitely nowhere near as lousy, compromised, exploitive, unethical, and disgusting.
posted by Miko at 5:45 PM on March 4, 2008


"I'm still half doubting some of the facts in that article simply because it implies a system that would defeat the whole purpose of tracking systems, recalls, etc. all for the sake of cheaper business costs."

I can't tell whether that is some form of subtle sarcasm or not.

As for cost, where I live we have far fewer of these problems (though we still have some). We have very rigorous meat inspection because most of our meat is exported to other markets, and strict standards are imposed as a sort of trade barrier by our European (and American!) customers.

I pay around $20 NZD for a kilogram (2.2 lb) of grass-fed sirloin. It's not marbled like grain-fed beef, but it's pretty tasty.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:57 PM on March 4, 2008


OK, so I pay about US $7 per lb of sirloin.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:03 PM on March 4, 2008


But eating beef once a month seems about right. Poultry, fish, beans, nuts, and grains are good sources of protein as well, with much less impact.

Actually, chicken and fish have serious environmental consequences, too. The immense factory farms of Tyson and others are causing water pollution. In fact, Oklahoma is suing Arkansas over it. Fish we know of the overfishing and factory ship problems, but farm raised isn't much better, either, with its own water pollution and rapid spread of fish diseases within its population.

No, maybe they're not the evil that cows have been made out to be, but the coops and fish farms are just as much a problem as feedlots.

I'm getting increasingly wary of these sorts of issues because I had a talk with a professor here who has been working with HIV/AIDS care providers in Africa. One of the big problems with providing the drugs to the sick is that they may not be effective because the patients have a nutritionally deficient diet. And then I wonder why we're all so incredibly worried about localvore vs. organivore and grass-fed vs. grain-fed when others are struggling to get enough vitamins in their system so their immune systems will respond to the effects the antivirals are having on their system. It's not that I don't worry about the issues of sustainable agriculture, it's more that I feel like a stupid rich white guy in doing so.
posted by dw at 7:48 AM on March 5, 2008


Actually, chicken and fish have serious environmental consequences, too

Yeah, that's true, (I used to study fisheries and am currently advocating for a better approach to fisheries from within slow food). The overall problem is really the scale of meat manufacturing. I basically believe that the way you raise the food matters environmentally, economically, and socially. Tyson sucks for the environment and for the farmers they exploit to raise hens for them that the farmers never own and assume all the risk on; your local chicken/turkey farmer is a much better choice. Yes, it's more expensive, so you eat meat less. At least that's the situation I've arrived at. Beef, though, is still the worst land-based protein by far. The resources it takes to produce beef cattle ready to slaughter vastly outpace those used by the other meats. Fish is a total minefield; there are very few fishes that are harvested sustainably and we are facing the potential of serious collapse in the oceans.

then I wonder why we're all so incredibly worried about localvore vs. organivore and grass-fed vs. grain-fed when others are struggling to get enough vitamins in their system

I see these as connected, not in opposition. The fact that we use so many of our abundant food resources to fatten up large animals so that we can eat them means less resource abundance for the rest of the world, and real health costs from saturated fats and potentially harmful additives that end up being paid for by all of us under our medical system. I see changing our food supply system as a necessary step in arriving at worldwide food justice. Our system is part of that. Eating more responsibly is a small step that would have enormous ramifications if it spreads and becomes more standard. Our obesity and our cheap food is the other side of the economic coin that is impoverishing others. The fact that may become a trendy thing for the affluent is economically a good thing - it means that they'll provide the early investment of time, money, and media attention that makes the growth of healthier systems possible. And as healthier systems become cheaper and more common, everyone will benefit.
posted by Miko at 8:05 AM on March 5, 2008


You'd think there would be more public outcry considering how much of the tainted meat went to feed our children in public schools.

I barely eat meat any more and stuff like this reinforces that I should be careful where and when I do eat it (coming from an agricultural community in East Texas, we typically bought a cow from a friend's farm, had it slaughtered and butchered, then stored it all year in an extra freezer in the garage). I know this is not an option for everyone, and it's not an option for me now living in a large city (and I miss it).
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 10:35 AM on March 5, 2008


In my opinion the important thing to remember is to cook beef properly.
posted by skalitenko at 10:46 AM on March 7, 2008


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