October 5th, 2009 :: Permalink
Mahalo to David for focusing on this critical issue. For many our first reaction will be to stop eating red meat (and there are excellent reasons for this dietary change) yet this story isn't simply about meat ... it details the overall collapse in our food production system. Vegetables are in no better condition. If you choose to bury your head and think you can escape this collapse in public health, you likely will be the next victim.
NY Times writer, Michael Moss, noted that, Ms. Smith and others had eaten Cargill patties bought at Sam's Club, a division of Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is a symptom of the disease affecting America - our rush to the bottom - and this is a global concern. "A young girl in Hawaii [was] stricken with the same E. coli found in the Cargill patties ... [but] she had eaten raw minced beef at a Japanese restaurant ... traced through a distributor to Greater Omaha."
The meat, scraps and filler used to make this hamburger came "from a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin ... ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria ... the largest ingredient was beef trimmings known as '50/50' - half fat, half meat ó that cost about 60 cents a pound, making them the cheapest component."
If you are uncertain why the producers have such an elaborate system, this "allowed Cargill to spend about 25 percent less than it would have for cuts of whole meat." Twenty-five percent less in costs means 25 percent more profit ...
DUH!!! Now I give you the next assignment. See Michael Moore's movie,In his latest movie, Moore claims American society has fallen into decline because we rely on a brutal profit scheme for nearly everything we produce - as we are focused on rewarding investors and the most wealthy over the security of our people. Regarding our food supply, many outbreaks "in the last three years [have] increased pressure on the Agriculture Department and the industry." Our present system is failing us!
Corporate Control and Government Complicity
NY Times author Moss points out that, "the meat industry treats much of its practices and the ingredients in ground beef as trade secrets. While the Department of Agriculture has inspectors posted in plants and has access to production records, it also guards those secrets ... although inspectors had been monitoring these plants all along, officials found serious problems at 55 that were failing to follow their own safety plans."
"Every time we look, we find out that things are not what we hoped they would be," said Loren D. Lange, an executive associate in the Agriculture Departmentís food safety division.Lange "hoped" things would be better but did nothing to be sure. Our government does not shut down the process. Moss adds, "in the weeks before Ms. Smithís patty was made, federal inspectors had repeatedly found that Cargill was violating its own safety procedures in handling ground beef, but they imposed no fines or sanctions, records show."
Our government tried "to require some bacterial testing of ground beef, but the industry argued that the cost would unfairly burden small producers." The position of the federal government is, "the department could mandate testing, but that it needed to consider the impact on companies as well as consumers. 'I have to look at the entire industry, not just what is best for public health,' Dr. Petersen said."
Food safety is not an issue of public health because testing will burden small producers! There is absolutely no concern for your safety. Government inspection is simply a side show relative to the bottom line of capitalistic producers.
How about using tax dollars to do more? Moss pointed out, "the Agriculture Department opted to carry out its own tests for E. coli, but it acknowledges that its 15,000 spot checks a year at thousands of meat plants and groceries nationwide is not meant to be comprehensive." Like many areas of government, decades of laisse faire policies have left it emasculated.
Due to Reagan-Bush "free-market" policies, we have gutted government oversight like a steer. It cannot keep up. And since we are in a "love relationship" with our capitalistic producers, we admit that, "many slaughterhouses and processors have voluntarily adopted testing regimes, yet they vary greatly in scope from plant to plant."
Moss found, "in August 2008, the U.S.D.A. issued a draft guideline again urging, but not ordering, processors to test ingredients before grinding. 'Optimally, every production lot should be sampled and tested before leaving the supplier and again before use at the receiver.' This recommendation was criticized by the industry because 'the cost of testing could unfairly burden small processors and that slaughterhouses already test.' "
The "American Association of Meat Processors said the proposed guideline departed from U.S.D.A.'s strategy of allowing companies to devise their own safety programs, thus returning to more of the agency's 'command and control' mind-set."
The result is, "no one is inspecting every single piece [of meat]."The company knew there are (were) problems, "investigators discovered that their own inspectors had lodged complaints about unsanitary conditions at the plant in the weeks before the outbreak, but that they had failed to set off any alarms within the department." Because this would cost money ...
The government knew there are (were) problems, "the U.S.D.A. found that Cargill had not followed its own safety program for controlling E. coli. For example, Cargill was supposed to obtain a certificate from each supplier showing that their tests had found no E. coli. But Cargill did not have a certificate for the Uruguayan trimmings used on the day it made the burgers that sickened Ms. Smith and others."
As companies focus on costs, workers are overwhelmed, "two current employees said the flow of carcasses keeps up its torrid pace even when trimmers get reassigned, which increases pressure on workers."
Just like you and I, some companies prefer to be ethical. Yet pressure from the whole is so cutthroat and intense that the good is lost in a swarm of greed. "The food safety officer at American Foodservice, which grinds 365 million pounds of hamburger a year, said it stopped testing trimmings a decade ago because of resistance from slaughterhouses. 'They would not sell to us. If I test and itís positive, I put them in a regulatory situation. One, I have to tell the government, and two, the government will trace it back to them. So we donít do that.' "
Be sure to see, Michael Moore's, "Capitalism: A Love Story" and I'll meet you afterward for a burger and beer.