The Checkout

Here's the Beef

Annys Shin

Happy Monday folks. Sorry I've been radio silent for a week. I had a lot of tomatoes and pepper news to weed through. And beef news too, which is what I'm going to tell you about today.

Last Friday, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer and Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Richard Raymond announced the agency would soon begin disclosing the names of retailers that receive recalled meat but only in situations where there's a high chance of people getting sick from eating the recalled meat.

Raymond has been pushing for this rule for two years. Two.

And it finally cleared the last bureaucratic hurdle (a.k.a. the Office of Management and Budget), just as USDA is in the middle of the latest ground beef outbreak/recall.

The rule, Schafer told reporters, will probably be published this week in the Federal Register and go into effect 30 days after that.

The name of retailers won't appear magically the next time a recall happens. Raymond said at the press conference it still takes them a few days to completely trace forward and identify all of the retail outlets involved. USDA will update the list online as they get information, he said.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, (D-Conn.) was not happy because had the new rule been in effect earlier this year, consumers would still not have been able to find out where the meat from the Hallmark/Westland plant in California went. (Hallmark was the plant where the Humane Society of the United States documented inhumane treatment of dairy cows headed to slaughter.) Because there was an extremely low chance of anyone getting sick from eating that meat, USDA called it a Class 2 recall. The new rule applies only to the most serious Class 1 recalls.

The rule was cleared over the objections of the meat industry. Mark Dopp, senior veep for regulatory affairs and general counsel for the industry trade group, the American Meat Institute, had this to say in a statement:

"Although this rule seems consumer-friendly on its face, it has the potential to mislead and confuse consumers." He explained that during recalls, product distribution information could expand over time.

"If a consumer sees an early version of a list of businesses that received recalled product, that consumer may conclude that he could not have purchased the product," he said. "Three days later, the consumer's local grocery store may appear on the list, but the consumer is unlikely to check the list again and may consume recalled products."

At the press conference, Raymond acknowledged that the people most at risk of getting seriously ill from foodborne illness, the really young and the really old, most likely aren't surfing the Internet for the latest list of retail outlets that may have received recalled meat. But he's hoping that by going public, local health officials can take that list and jump on the local radio or TV news outlets and further disseminate the information.

Actually, the first thing he said was he thought such a list would be front-page, above-the-fold kind of news. I was really touched that someone still thinks of the old paper as the first place people turn to for breaking news. Sigh.

Anyway, as always, I consult with the wisdom of the crowds. Are we better off with the rule? Or is the American Meat Institute right? Will it only confuse us?

By Annys Shin |  July 14, 2008; 10:34 AM ET Annys Shin
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The Meat Institute wants us to be very unconfused... and keep eating meat no matter what. Their position is transparently self-serving.

In our sound-bite media age, there's a distressing tendency to claim that any information will just confuse people. And it's true that some people will tend to be confused no matter what. But I firmly believe that information (if correct) is always better than no information.

Posted by: Allan | July 14, 2008 12:31 PM

I question whether the American Meat Institute is really looking for the best way to disclose info about contamination, given that's exactly what they reliably seem to fight against. People will be just fine, and perhaps even healthier, for going without hamburgers a few days... especially if there's a much greater chance they'll be infected with something.

Posted by: Brian | July 14, 2008 12:32 PM

Between antibiotics, drug resistant microbes, mad cow diesease, and all of the other scary pathogens brought from the manure pits to the table, I wonder why anyone eats meat these days.

Meatless burgers have come a long way and there are several kinds that are practically indistinguishable from the real thing. Plus they are less than 100 calories a pop with high protein content. Anyone who tried a veggie burger a while ago when they were nasty should try again -- they actually taste quite good these days and have a great texture. Especially the meatless breaded "chicken" patties.

Posted by: Danilo | July 14, 2008 12:42 PM

Paraphrasing the American Meat Institute: "A consumer who has no chance of finding out whether his or her meat has been recalled is better off than a consumer who has some indeterminate chance."


Posted by: Lindemann | July 14, 2008 12:54 PM

Isn't practically all meat contaminated with germs that can kill you? I thought that was a given and that's why the constant urges to cook your meat properly and disinfect your hands and cutting boards, etc. You should pretty much assume that there is a bit of feces in every burger.

Posted by: Anita | July 14, 2008 12:58 PM

@Danito: Meat tastes great.

Posted by: Lindemann | July 14, 2008 1:13 PM

It's unfortunate, but greed saturates our society. The American Meat institute is out to do only one thing, and that's protect the profits of the meat industry. The ironic thing, is that if the meat supply were truly safe, it would seem that would be a pretty effective method of protecting profits. I personally don't eat meat because cows dine on not only grass and corn, but chicken poop, dead pets, dead pigs, dead zoo animals, and dead chickens. Oh, and antibiotics, LOTS of antibiotics. All in the name of profit. You are what you eat!

Posted by: Stine | July 14, 2008 1:54 PM

Where does it apply to recalls for cloned livestock?

Oh, wait, yeah, or irradiated (radioactive) products?

Posted by: SillyPutty | July 14, 2008 2:09 PM

Stupid Americans, Europe has been irradiating food for years. All food producers don't like this idea. Food won't spoil as quickly therefore you spend more money. The actual cost increase to the consumer is minimal. But you can bet the food producers etc. will lie their butts off to stop this needed change. Virtually all food born illnesses would be eliminated. And it stays good much much longer. The quality of the food is affected so slightly as to be of no consequence.
Stupid Americans...

Posted by: EASY | July 14, 2008 2:16 PM

No amount of cooking will eliminate mad cow disease, but the folks selling ground beef assure us that the risk is minimal.

Posted by: dave_m | July 14, 2008 2:25 PM

How in the world can the American Meat Institute weigh in on any issue woith credibility??? Stand up for your consumers and demand that producers maintain the hightest standards. Just that alone would solidify a position of strength in the global markets. As it stands now we keep English and Canadian beef products off or away while we continue to do a good job of making our own populations sick.

Posted by: martimal | July 14, 2008 2:31 PM

Oh no, the big bad companies are out looking for profits, shame on them, that's not what they're supposed to do... lets focus on that point and not think any further!

On a more serious note, I think the confusion mentioned briefly here as the meat institute's justification has been understated. It's not so much that people might miss information about their store having ordered contaminated product, but about customer perception in general. If a store is highlighted on the evening news as having recently obtained contaminated beef, even if they have removed it all completely and got new, certified-safe beef, what are the odds customers will go buy it? Extremely low. What about buying any meat from that store in general? Also lower. And these impressions people get of the stores are likely to last longer than just the moment too, ala "I don't shop there, they sometimes order bad meat" which is most times way beyond the control of the store itself.

The responsibility I feel should go to the stores themselves, as in my experience it already does. My local grocery store in response to the tomato scare voluntarily posted signs about where they got their tomatoes, and removed the ones that they considered questionable. This makes me feel good about the store, and keeps me properly informed and safe.

I guess my point is the stores themselves will find out if they had contaminated product, and unless they are being deliberately malicious would remove it (and probably put up signs notifying recent customers of the issue), so by the time the warning gets out through the media in this new way the danger has passed, but the store still gets hurt because, well, most people are stupid.

But hey, all businesses are evil money hungry monsters right, so who cares? Let's all be vegan because it's loosely related to the topic!

Posted by: Dorfer | July 14, 2008 2:34 PM

Wow, I feel much safer knowing that Mr. Dopp and the American Meat Institute are looking out for us poor, confused consumers. Heck, without them who knows what could happen! Thank you, Mr. Dopp, and pass another pound of that fine meat.

Posted by: Kevin M. | July 14, 2008 2:35 PM

To all the tofuti's out there, why does fake meat or fake milk cost more than the real thing!

Posted by: dman | July 14, 2008 2:54 PM

Is it ok for vegitarians to eat animal crackers ?

Posted by: Greg | July 14, 2008 3:12 PM

I see most of the comments are from non-meat eaters. So I suspect an agenda in the replies here. Are people dying like flies from eating meat? There is no evidence to support it. On the other hand, the biggest recent food scares have been with spinach, tomatoes and salsa ingredients. Back in the 70s and 80s the idea that meat was dangerous had some traction, but now the above commentators are just regurgitating old myths.

Posted by: Vegan-skeptic | July 14, 2008 3:15 PM

I really wish the MSM would stop scare-mongering. Really folks, just follow safe food preparation procedures and you will be fine. Always water rinse the beef/chicken/pork/fish even veggies. Never prepare raw meat and veggies in the same containers, cutting boards, plates etc. Use clean utensils blah blah blah. Really it's common sense, but people are people and stupid people will always suffer for it.

Posted by: jeebus | July 14, 2008 3:17 PM

//Between antibiotics, drug resistant microbes, mad cow diesease, and all of the other scary pathogens brought from the manure pits to the table, I wonder why anyone eats meat these days.//

How many died from contaminated spinach?

And that spinach was infected buy the same e-coli as the meat.

Between GM corn that's never been safety tested, MSG plant sprays and plans to irridate all produce (for your safety of course), it's a wonder anyone eats vegatables these days.

The point is, known problems in the meat supply do not imply that plant supplies are safe.

Unless you grow your own vegatables from your grandfathers's seeds, you can't be sure what you are consuming.

Posted by: Rich | July 14, 2008 3:21 PM

No surprise that the meat industry would suggest that giving consumers more information would be confusing. The more information the better. Releasing the information is the responsible thing to do.

Posted by: Matt | July 14, 2008 3:27 PM

for any who want the real deal go to
If you have the guts to pitch in and make this world a better place for your friends neighbors,and loved ones (Kids?). check it out. It takes real courage to see problems and pitch in to fix em. Wake up People!

Posted by: Da-Weaver | July 14, 2008 3:28 PM

Meat isn't more prone to spreading infection than vegetables. Spinach, tomatos, and jalepenos have all had public health scares in the past year.

And with the exception of mad cow disease (which is EXTREMELY rare), all of these illnesses can be prevented by proper food preperation. When you're done working with raw meat, wash your hands. Cook the meat. Not rocket science.

In fact vegetables are more dangerous because they are more likely to be eaten raw.

Posted by: Ryan P | July 14, 2008 3:57 PM

Buy local! See these sites for a directory of local producers.

For grass fed beef:

Posted by: melvin | July 14, 2008 3:58 PM

Most beef has feces in it.
If that's ok with you, eat up!

On the other hand, all food not grown organically has an unsafe level of pesticides and chemicals.
If that's ok with you too, eat up!

But if that's not ok with you, and you think that's a disgusting mark on the face of our basic human rights, SPEAK UP!

Posted by: Reality | July 14, 2008 4:09 PM

1. Raise your own
2. "I question whether the American Meat Institute is really looking for the best way to disclose info about contamination, given that's exactly what they reliably seem to fight against." Yep. It is about control. Control who buys, sells and produces.
3. Look at the USDA's NAIS program. You won't wonder any longer.

Posted by: mutti | July 14, 2008 4:21 PM

who cares americans need to stay skinnnnnnyyyyyy anyways. thier all fat people. so that means it;s bad to eat meat.

Posted by: tim | July 14, 2008 4:33 PM

who cares americans need to stay skinnnnnnyyyyyy anyways. thier all fat people. so that means it;s bad to eat meat

Posted by: tim | July 14, 2008 4:34 PM

To Dman:

The reason fake meats cost more than the real thing is because the U.S. government subsidizes all meat and dairy products. If you make veggie burgers from WHOLE FOODS (which we all should be doing) it is actually much cheaper. Soak some beans or lentils and mash together some burgers.

Posted by: Jmo | July 14, 2008 4:40 PM

This will provide another layer of defense to the public. It will make stores wary of getting their store on any infected meat. This should be for all products.
Maybe more law suits may help clean up our disgraceful provider's of food to the American People!!

Posted by: panamboy | July 14, 2008 4:42 PM

These forums always seem to generate a lot of two-sided arguments. Mac or PC? Meat or no-meat diet? Tp or no tp? (I use tp daily, thank you despite the claims of unsafe treatment of waste paper at my local recycling plant.)
The real issue is to be aware of the unsafe ways our foods are produced and delivered to our stores. My vote is to eat locally grown or raised foods. Whether they are treated with something gross or not, you can ask the producer, and also keep the local farmer in business AND the use of fuel to have your food delivered from South America or wherever else at a minimum.
...Thereby saving fuel for you to use in your SUV. Yay!

Posted by: Thinner | July 14, 2008 4:44 PM

Anyone who thinks their vegetables organic or otherwise don't contain fecal matter and are fed by runoff containing pesticides...think again. As for irradiating food this does not mean the food is radioactive just that a radioactive source was used to sterilize your food...if you don't think this is done with the milk you are drinking you're naive

Posted by: Anonymous | July 14, 2008 4:44 PM

JMO, if you mash beans together, they taste like mashed bean and not meat. The biggest subsidy to the meat industry is the subsidy given to the grain producers so feed is cheap. Do you also make your own soy milk? soy ice cream? etc. If the vegan crowd wants America to switch, it needs to produce alternative foods at a better price. (Meat is also cheaper if you butcher your own!)

Posted by: dman | July 14, 2008 5:03 PM

This is the result of the federal government requiring every little butcher shop to be federally inspected and then giving the big meat packers the right to inspect and govern themselves. It put the little guy out of business and consolidated the meat packing industry in right to work anti union states like Nebraska, where undocumented aliens are processing your meat. They can be in a village in the jungle one week and cutting your pork chops the next. I don't think that anyone of them have had a physical exam when they crossed the border. When I was a kid the butcher had the strongest inspector there was. If he sold some bad meat he went out of business. The animals he butchered were from his local community and tracing bad meat was simple. People bought it from one shop that bought it from one or two farmers, case closed. Now God doesn't even know where your food comes from let alone those that are suppose to, and if you are faceing a fine or a lawsuit you can always lie.

Posted by: Old Coot | July 14, 2008 5:31 PM

This country has become a bunch of wussies! Veggie burgers... give me a flying freakin break! Now excuse me while I eat my feces covered rib eye! Yum : )

Posted by: GoodOlBoy | July 14, 2008 6:05 PM

I almost forgot
@ Jmo
"Soak some beans or lentils and mash together some burgers."

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha...
Thanks for the laugh!

Posted by: GoodOlBoy | July 14, 2008 6:13 PM

The recent Nebraska recall of 5.3 million pounds of "meat" prompted alligations that folks should just know to cook their "food" at the recommended 160 degrees. My take? If people are stupid enough to eat meat - what makes you think they know how to cook it? (or to make themselves aware of recalls - no matter how timely or thorough they are)?

Man lives quite well on a plant based diet - and could do so much more economically if huge subsidies weren't constantly delivered into the coffers of the meat/animal business.

Vegan - better for the planet, better for health - certainly better for the animals.

Posted by: Bea Elliott | July 15, 2008 8:13 AM

I love steaks and bacon.

Posted by: Lindemann | July 15, 2008 10:20 AM

Tim wrote:
who cares americans need to stay skinnnnnnyyyyyy anyways. thier all fat people. so that means it;s bad to eat meat.
Posted by: tim | July 14, 2008 4:33 PM
Tim, please learn to spell, type, and punctuate before posting, ok? It isn't just meat that makes people fat- it is the lack of excercise as well. And Europeans are catching up to Americans, and very quickly, when it comes to being overweight. To slam the meat industry for making people fat is to remove responsibility from people who make the decsion to bring their forks to their mouths too many times.

Posted by: BgJff | July 15, 2008 12:12 PM

I agree with Bea Elliott.

What the government is also hiding from the American people is that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world's greenhouse gases -- more than transportation, according to the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization. Good luck for your children when there is no Earth left. But at least you enjoyed your burger while you were here.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 15, 2008 4:12 PM

This might be way off topic - but considering the thrust of this essay is about the MEat industry and consumers.... maybe not.

There's so much talk about "protecting consumers" - was wondering about this - ultimately cheap, easy method of advising folks just what kind of "flesh" they're consuming.... ie: pig, cow, chicken, etc.

For those who don't read English, for those visually impaired - for those "just in a hurry" - wouldn't it be nice if all the packages of "meat" would have a silhouette of the victim.... I mean, animal "food" that's in the package?

That seems simple enough - Not as expensive or impractical as video monitoring in slaughterhouses, which the Meat industry and USDA objected to. And not as dis-ruptive as notifications of "recalls". And it certainly might clear up some confusion for folks wondering if "veal" comes from deer or not.... or ham from "pigs", or "nuggets" from chickens.

Inexpensive, informative - practical.... Let's not forget who we're eating here folks - they ARE animals - and ARE living, feeling beings. Go VEGAN

Posted by: Bea Elliott | July 16, 2008 1:12 AM

Vegetables were living feeling beings too were they not?

Posted by: To Bea | July 17, 2008 1:58 PM

I have to say that I found many of the comments made amusing. I love the fact that we live in a country where we can chose to be meat-eaters or vegans. Good ol freedom. Although, I am not sure I agree with EASY. To argue a point with her/him, remember many years ago when "they" told all of us that saccharin, the new no calorie wonder sweetner, was perfectly safe? Well, come to find out, it caused cancer! Golly, gee. So, pelting my food with ANY kind of radiation, no matter how much "they" assure me that it is perfectly safe, makes me question, "how do you really know?" If that makes me a stupid american, so be it. Might I add the Olean debate? What about red m&m's? vioxx? celebrex? My point is, most of what is done is not tested for a long enough time to find out just how safe/unsafe it is. Then BOOM! The truth comes out, and who is it that loses? we do, the consumer, some pay with their lives. So argue your fruit/veggie way of life, but know that unless you are completely in control of where, how and what went into that plant, you are really no safer and certainly no wiser than this "stupid american".

What I don't like, is not knowing where our meat comes from. I think it would be a good idea to include that information, somewhere on the label. We know where our Wheaties are manufactured...why not our meats?
We try to buy a beef locally every year, but often run out before slaughter again. We prefer the taste of our free range, grass-fed, no antibiotics, home grown cow. Also knowing that it is chemical and hormone-free makes me very happy. But reality and necessity forces us to sometimes purchase from the store. I don't like that I find out about a recall and they are recalling food from 2 months ago. Hate to break it to the powers that be, but I am pretty sure we already consumed it. Guess I should be thankful that we did not get sick. Not to mention that a lot of times, we buy in bulk and break it up to freeze it. Oops, the label is now gone...silly me, guess I should have kept it, especially since we don't just shop in one store. So who really knows when I bought the beef, where I bought it from, what the best by dates are...etc. I make my own dog-food. they certainly eat much more hamburger than I do. I worry for their welfare also. If there were a way to regulate, oversee, etc. I wish they would find it. until then we are all going to have to live on tenterhooks each time they have a recall. Can't stop living and can't live in fear. And sadly enough, I doubt the government will ever really figure it out.

Posted by: sc | July 21, 2008 2:58 PM

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