Saturday, May 22, 2010

American Meat Is Even Grosser Than You Thought

A USDA Choice 2-bone standing rib roast.Image via Wikipedia
  To Jurgis the packers had been equivalent to fate; Ostrinski showed him that they were the Beef Trust. They were a gigantic combination of capital, which had crushed all opposition, and overthrown the laws of the land, and was preying upon the people.
    -- From the Jungle, by Upton Sinclair

In 2008, Mexican authorities rejected a shipment of U.S. beef because the meat exceeded Mexico's regulatory tolerance for copper. The rejected meat was returned to the United States, where it was sold and consumed, because the U.S. has no regulatory threshold for copper in meat.

Incidents like this are why the food safety arm of USDA, known as the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), is under USDA scrutiny. While the public has gotten used to microbes like E. coli and salmonella threatening the nation's meat supply, and while food safety agencies make food-borne illness a high-profile priority, contamination of meat by heavy metals, veterinary drugs and pesticides has been slipping through the bureaucratic cracks.

Microbial contaminants can be killed by cooking, but chemical residues aren't destroyed by heat. In fact, some of these residues break down into more dangerous substances when heated, according to the FSIS National Residue Program for Cattle, a recent report by the USDA's Office of the Inspector General."
American Meat Is Even Grosser Than You Thought | | AlterNet

According to an Office of the Inspector General (OIG is the government auditor) report (FSIS National Residue Program for Cattle), there are no established tolerances for heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, copper, or arsenic in meat.  Unlike other countries, we have no standards for these metals (except for arsenic in poultry).  In an International Journal of Agriculture and Biology article, researchers in the Punjab  found that these heavy metals seem to lurk in the kidneys and livers of cattle more than the meat.  They found that even in the meat there were higher levels of lead, arsenic and mercury than what even Indian standards permit.  The researchers chalk the concentration of heavy metals to environmental pollution.  (Side note:  Doesn't it strike you as odd that India has standards for heavy metal concentrations in meat and that we don't?)  As a rule, I try and avoid Third World food although that it is getting harder and harder to avoid in our supermarkets.  In light of the fact that many countries seem to have higher standards for inspections, I wonder if I should rethink this!  Actually, the FDA report cited above points to the need for heavy metal standards in meat inspections to help exporters meat regulations in other countries.

FSIS will assess the chemical residue program to identify high risk chemicals that could potentially contaminate the food supply.  This assessment is due to be finished in March 2011.

There are also fewer Food Inspectors and less   Imports of FDA-regulated foods have more than doubled in the last 7 years—from 4 million shipments in 2000 to approximately 9 million shipments in 2006. Of these 9 million shipments, only 0.2 percent were analyzed in a laboratory as part of its inspection process. Currently, FDA has the capacity to inspect only one percent of food at the U.S. border.  We still use manual inspections in some cases.

People really have no sense as to what they are buying these days.  I live in an upper middle class neighborhood and we have a meat case in my local supermarket that supposedly has better cuts of beef like Angus cuts, filet mignon, tenderloin.  Well, right beside all that razzle matazzle is hamburger.  But when I look a the country of origin for the burger, I see:  USA, Australia, Uruguay, and two Third World Countries.  So, really this overpriced meat is leftovers ground together.

Not only that, but according to David Kirby, we are eating more meat, especially the twenty somethings on a budget:
When I was in my 20's, my friends and I knew that the cheapest food available was made of carbs, and we survived on mounds of mac-n-cheese and home fries for lunch, and ramen, rice and beer for dinner.
But animal factory farming has changed all that.
Last week while speaking on tour at San Francisco's Book Passage, my 20-something nephew Michael commented that he and his struggling friends now fill up on cheap meat to tame their growling bellies, more than on bread, noodles, rice and tater-tots.
"We can go to the store and get a pork roast, cook it, and stuff our faces on it for days -- and it's really, really cheap," Michael said. "Meat has become the new carb..."

Without getting into the whole chelation controversy in autism, I do think that it is worthy of noting that  there is now funding for epidemiological studies for links between autism and the environment and the use of  alternative medicine.

You know, I am talking about "fresh" cuts of meat here.  I'm afraid if I looked back at the canned meat, I'd be right where Sinclair Lewis was in the 1920's  when he wrote:

"and so Jurgis learned a few things about the great and only Durham canned goods, which had become a national institution. They were regular alchemists at Durham's; .... They advertised "potted chicken," .... the things that went into the mixture were tripe, and the fat of pork, and beef suet, and hearts of beef, and finally the waste ends of veal, when they had any. They put these up in several grades, and sold them at several prices; but the contents of the cans all came out of the same hopper. And then there was "potted game" and "potted grouse," "potted ham," and "deviled ham"-- de-vyled, as the men called it. "De-vyled" ham was made out of the waste ends of smoked beef that were too small to be sliced by the machines; and also tripe, dyed with chemicals so that it would not show white; and trimmings of hams and corned beef; and potatoes, skins and all; and finally the hard cartilaginous gullets of beef, after the tongues had been cut out. All this ingenious mixture was ground up and flavored with spices to make it taste like something. Anybody who could invent a new imitation had been sure of a fortune from old Durham, said Jurgis' informant; but it was hard to think of anything new in a place where so many sharp wits had been at work for so long;"
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