Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The health risks associated with industrially produced ground beef

Last fall I read an article[3] in the NY Times about a 22-year old dancer, Stephanie Smith, who became severely ill from eating hamburger in early fall 2007. Ms. Smith did not recover and remains paralyzed. How could this have happened?

The ground meat available to the public tends to contain non-meat contaminants, including bone, animal bedding, and feces. As part of our class, we are reading parts of Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser and Food, Inc., edited by Karl Weber, both of which address the issue of dangerous meat in the food supply. Fast Food Nation focuses on causes of meat contamination, the rise of E. Coli O157:H7 and other potentially fatal species of E. Coli, the lack of responsibility by corporations, and the inabilities of government to effectively regulate foods and enforce food-safety standards. Food, Inc. briefly discusses various industrial methods used to increase production and their side effects to the consumer.

I was appalled to find that corporations ignore “the primary causes of meat contamination—the feed being given to cattle, the overcrowding at feedlots, the poor sanitation at slaughterhouses, excessive line speeds, poorly trained workers, the lack of stringent government oversight…”,[1] instead focusing on new ways to make contaminated meat safer, including irradiation. Corporations cannot effectively be held accountable, since the United States Department for Agriculture (USDA) cannot issue a recall of tainted meat nor fine companies for knowingly selling it. While some fast-food corporations have put pressure on meat suppliers and succeeded in getting cleaner meat for their business, meat sold to the public still remains highly contaminated. The most distressing part of this lack of sanitation is that effective monitoring is not expensive. Jack in the Box, after losing credibility when four children died from eating contaminated hamburgers in 1993, established an effective testing system to evaluate the meat they used and safely prepare it for consumption that “raises the cost of the chain’s ground beef by about one penny per pound.” [1]

Other health risks come from the antibiotics and hormones used to increase the growth rate of cattle. The use of low doses of antibiotics promotes the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria, which pose a growing public health concern. The hormones used to boost growth increase risks of breast, prostate, and colon cancer, as well as causing potential reproductive issues. Industrial methods used to increase production of meat pose a direct and significant health risk to the public. [2]

Why is our food contaminated? And, why are there no enforceable regulations to prevent contaminated foods from reaching the marketplace? I believe the only recourse for the consumer is to buy locally from known producers. Support your farmer’s markets and your local farms, find out how your foods are produced, and speak out to your congressmen about need for safe food.

1. Fast Food Nation, by Eric Scholler.

2. Food, Inc., by Participant media and Karl Weber.

3. E. Coli Path Shows Flaws in Beef Inspection, by Michael Moss. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/04/health/04meat.html

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