Posts Tagged ‘corporate evil’

Veterinarian Ignored by USDA

March 5, 2010 Leave a comment

 The US Dept, of Agriculture apparently has no problem with slaughterhouses that butcher conscious pigs or drag downed calves through excrement before slaughter. That is, as long as nobody hears about it.

Dean Wyatt, a supervisory veterinarian for the USDA’s food safety and inspection unit, spoke to a Congressional committee today about how his recommendations were overruled when he cited certain slaughterhouses for inhumane practices and food safety violations. From USA TODAY:

(Wyatt’s charges) detail instances in which he and other inspectors were overruled when citing slaughterhouses for violations such as shocking and butchering days-old calves that were too weak or sick to stand. He also describes being threatened with transfer or demotion after citing a plant for butchering conscious pigs, despite rules that they first be stunned and unconscious.

So a guy does his job, finds violations and animal cruelty, and his bosses threaten his career for attempting to punish the violating slaughterhouses. Sounds about right. Job well done, Big Ag.


E. Coli Revisited

February 16, 2010 Leave a comment

So I was just doing some casual reading on Slate about E. coli in ground beef… you know, how it seems to pop up seemingly more and more frequently, resulting in massive recalls (such as this week’s Huntington Meat Company recall of 5.7 million pounds of beef and veal). I always wonder how the average reader reacts to these stories. Going back to my pre-vegan days, I can only speculate that Joe Six-pack kinda shakes his head, double checks the fridge to make sure he’s safe, and then hopes they figure out how to fix it in the future.

The meat industry sure is trying. I’d be willing to bet that these big recalls are a bit embarrassing to them, not only because of what it says about the laxness of food safety regulations, but also because it lifts the veil for a few days every time this happens. It makes us actually think about how that meat gets to the shelf. We get to read about how E. coli lives in the intestinal tracts of real living cows, and how these outbreaks are usually caused by those cows’ feces splattering up on their dead carcasses and not getting cleaned off well enough. Maybe that is the most embarassing thing to Cargill and Huntington and factory farmers across the land, but I bet they are a bit nervous about us thinking about the process at all.

Even when things are going well (as you might expect me to say), the ground beef industry is not pretty. Big Ag doesn’t really want us to worry too much about the well-being of the cows, what they eat, how they are killed, or how they try to deal with that pesky E. coli. They just want us to want those burgers. In order for that to happen, it is best that things are kept simple. No more outbreaks would be a big help. That would keep food safety advocates out of their hair, cut down on public outcries for more regulation and federal interference, and get them sued less often. So, what are they doing about it now?

Well, they are developing a whole new arsenal of weapons to battle E. coli. USA Today filled us in on some of the plans last week:

  • More vaccines
  • Phages (a “a car-wash-like spray of bacteria-eating viruses” that cows are doused in 1-4 hours before slaughter)
  • New probiotics (bacteria to compete with E. coli in cow stomachs)
  • Sodium chlorate (a chemical that turns to bleach inside a cow to kill the E. coli)
  • Feeding cows hay and grass, instead of grain (which is natural but, according to Slate, not a real solution)

These measure would be in addition to the barrage of antibiotics, steam sprays, vaccines, and who-knows-what that the cows already endure (not to mention the lovely ammonia treatment I wrote about a while ago). It seems apparent that the beef pushers are going to great lengths to fight E. coli. That way we don’t have to think about CAFOs, slaughterhouses, manure-caked hides, acidic stomachs, bloody-diarrhea-kidney-failure-and-death, a cow’s recto-anal junction, vaccines, phages, sodium chlorate, antiobiotics, government subsidies, ammonia processing, the food system, lawsuits, agriculture lobbies, methane, O157:H7, water contamination, veal crates,  manure lagoons……………..

All this effort for a $2.99 (or whatever the hell they cost) Big Mac. Perhaps there is another way to keep E. coli at bay: don’t eat beef.

Beef Trimmings and Ammonia

January 4, 2010 1 comment

Beef Products, Inc. is a company in South Dakota that provides a type of ammonia-treated ground beef filler to most of the major burger joints in the world including McDonald’s, Burger Kings, and Cargill. This filler is…

a mashlike substance frozen into blocks or chips, is used in a majority of the hamburger sold nationwide. But it has remained little known outside industry and government circles. Federal officials agreed to the company’s request that the ammonia be classified as a “processing agent” and not an ingredient that would be listed on labels.

– from the December 30, 2009 New York Times cover article Safety of Beef Processing Method Is Questioned by Michael Moss

Big Food companies like this “beef” because it makes their patties cheaper. That is why the national School Lunch Program uses BPI beef as well.

The scariest thing about this filler beef to me is that they can get away with simply calling it ground beef just because it is technically meat from a cow. They don’t have to call it what it really is: fatty beef trimmings (the stuff that meat packers normally shave off onto the floor to be discarded) that are run through a series of machines, which seperate the fat from the protein, and then treat the leaner stuff with ammonia to kill the E. coli (which is more common in trimmings like this). As mentioned above, the USDA does not require them to list ammonia as an ingredient.

This filler beef makes up a small percentage of a typical burger patty, like 10 or 15%. It saves everybody  involved millions of dollars. It keeps Big Macs cheap.

Where Does Fish Oil Come From?

December 16, 2009 Leave a comment

Answer: Menhaden (the lil guy you see above). Paul Greenberg, author of the upcoming book Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, clarified this for us in his informative op-ed for the NY Times.

I had never heard of menhaden before, but apparently they are a vital part of many ocean ecosystems, and they are the primary source for omega-3 fish oil supplements. In the North American market, 90% of the menhaden caught are done so for a company called Omega Protein (in Houston).

Today, hundreds of billions of pounds of them are converted into lipstick, salmon feed, paint, “buttery spread,” salad dressing and, yes, some of those omega-3 supplements you have been forcing on your children. All of these products can be made with more environmentally benign substitutes, but menhaden are still used in great (though declining) numbers because they can be caught and processed cheaply.

Why should we care?

Quite simply, menhaden keep the water clean. The muddy brown color of the Long Island Sound and the growing dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay are the direct result of inadequate water filtration — a job that was once carried out by menhaden. An adult menhaden can rid four to six gallons of water of algae in a minute. Imagine then the water-cleaning capacity of the half-billion menhaden we “reduce” into oil every year.

That, and the fact that most fish (that eat other fish) eat menahaden, including bluefin tuna, striped bass, redfish and bluefish.

So how should we get omega-3’s? How about walnuts, flaxseed (or flax oil), or my new favorite, hemp milk?

“What we know about eating animals is that we don’t want to know.”

November 20, 2009 2 comments

This quote comes from Elizabeth Kolbert’s thoughtful review of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals in The New Yorker. Foer’s book is getting a ton of publicity, it seems, and it is a very exciting time for vegans like me. By virtue of his hipster-approved novels and his combination of intellect and youth, Foer has shown that he has the power that many vegan freaks wish they had: the power to get more people to pay attention. I could blog about modern food problems until I was blue in the fingertips, and so could the rest of the vegan blogorazzi, and none of us would have the influence that he has. I am very happy to see it happening, but book tours and press junkets end after a while. We will have to see if interviews on Ellen Degeneres’ show and reviews in The Onion and New Yorker will merely start the conversation, or actually create a new movement towards veganism and vegetarianism. I hope Foer’s book is coming at the right time.

I want to believe that there are a lot of people out there who have thought a bit about the source of their meat. The sad thing is that most people choose to believe that if a burger can legally be sold to them for a dollar, everything with the system must be fine. These people do not choose to think about the power of corporate influence, the economics of how meat is created so cheaply, or maybe even the fact that a cow had to live a short horrible life so they could get a little salt-induced dopamine spurt. Like Kolbert said: “What we know about eating animals is that we don’t want to know.” Those who don’t want to know probably will not be part of the conversation. They are often the same people who say that eating meat is a god-given right and pleasure, or reduce the whole argument to “I have canine teeth, therefore I am supposed to eat meat.” Argh, it bugs me to think about the ignorance, so lets move on. Ignore the ignorant.

So, what about the people who do want to know? This is where we can get some hope from Foer’s book. There are potentially millions of new vegan converts out there, right? I mean, there has to be. Modern grocery shoppers increasingly care about organics, food-born illness, fair-trade, etc… So why not animal rights and corporate justice? For me, the biggest reason to go vegan was, and probably always will be, the satisfaction of removing myself from a system that repeatedly deceives us and corrupts everything it touches. To me, the food/agriculture industry is more evil than any of the bailed-out bankers, Big Tobacco, or Big Oil. I imagine there are a lot of people that hate being lied to as much as I do. Hopefully this book will make more veggie-leaning thinkers out there take the next step and do the right thing, just like Natalie Portman did (she became vegan after reading it).

I am simultaneously excited and frustrated by the transparency provided to us by the information age. The internet and investigative journalism should be giving us the truth that all the evil corporations are trying to hide. Unfortunately, that promise of transparency isn’t living up to its potential. Until our society at large decides that it is important to know where our food comes from, we cannot expect a high enough level of snooping around by do-gooders to make a difference. This is why I believe it is important to read (and buy) newspapers and magazines that do a good job. Those passionate journalists can’t find the dirt if they don’t get paid for it; at least not as effectively. This is also why I plan to read Eating Animals as soon as I manage to scrounge up the money.

Interview with Director Robert Kenner

November 18, 2009 Leave a comment

Interview with the director of Food, Inc. Robert Kenner. If I could, I would get a copy of this DVD for everybody I know for Christmas, or just for them to have. The DVD is available now. I would also recommend the companion book and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma if you are into things like truth, fairness, knowing how the food industry works, and pulling aside the corporate veil that hides all those things. The movie is really well done. Like Kenner says at the beginning of his interview, it is not for the extremist or even the vegetarian. It is a film for people who are curious about food, and who are interested in knowing the truth.

Hamburger E. Coli Roulette

October 6, 2009 Leave a comment


(slaughterhouses) with aggressive testing programs typically find E. coli in as much as 1 percent to 2 percent of their trimmings, yet some slaughterhouses implicated in outbreaks had failed to find any.

– from the cover story of Sunday’s New York Times by Michael Moss

I am thoroughly impressed with the New York Times lately. In the last couple weeks, I have seen high-profile coverage of the shortcomings of our country’s food industry. In Sunday’s cover article, featuring a picture of the likely paralyzed E. coli victim Stephanie Smith lying on her back, Michael Moss exposes some of the inner workings of the ground beef industry.

Smith ate an E. coli tainted Cargill-brand beef patty in fall 2007 (a frozen “American Chef’s Selection Angus Beef Patty”) and ended up with hemolytic uremic syndrome. This led to severe kidney problems, seizures, an induced coma, and eventually paralysis from the waist down and brain damage. While she was in the hospital, Cargill recalled over 800,000 pounds of beef.

Smith is an extreme case, but she’s not the only one to get sick. In the last 3 years, over 8,000 people were sickened over the course of 16 outbreaks of E. coli tainted beef. The USDA encourages but does not require slaughterhouses to test for E. coli. To be more cost effective, Cargill gets ground beef from several different meatpacking companies around the country (plus Uruguay), which makes it harder to determine the intial source of contamination in cases like Stephanie Smith’s. One of those sources is  a company called Beef Products Incorporated. BPI’s pride and joy is a meat derivative made from fat trimmings that are salvaged from typical meat-cutting at slaughterhouses. The company’s process “warms the trimmings, removes the fat in a centrifuge and treats the remaining product with ammonia to kill E. coli.” You can see the machinery involved, and the queer-looking gray “meat” final product in the excellent documentary Food, Inc. (out on DVD in November, yay!).

I love the work being done by the NY Times, as it is a sign of the growing public interest in where our food comes from. Hopefully, the trend of investigative journalism into Big Food’s dirty kitchen continues. In the meantime, I’ll stay away from the burgers (duh) and hope the overflowing cow manure doesn’t taint our spinach with E. coli again.

Check out the article, or at least watch the little video on the side on

Ms. Smith’s reaction to the virulent strain of E. coli was extreme, but tracing the story of her burger, through interviews and government and corporate records obtained by The New York Times, shows why eating ground beef is still a gamble. Neither the system meant to make the meat safe, nor the meat itself, is what consumers have been led to believe.