Archives for category: USDA

Dr. Robert Lustig (Sugar: The Bitter Truth) speaks at Yale’s Peabody Museum on the policy and politics of the “Sugar Pandemic.” Hosted by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.

From Big Think Blog:

What’s the Big Idea?

Over the last two weeks, pink slime has become the safe food movement’s equivalent of the Kony 2012 campaign. Over 200,000 people have signed an online petition to ban the use of what the food industry calls “lean beef trimmings” in school lunches. Larger questions have been raised about why it has taken consumer advocates and government watchdogs so long to catch on.

After all, haven’t we seen this movie before?

106 years ago Upton Sinclair blew the whistle on the Chicago stockyards meatpacking industry in his famous muckraking novel The Jungle. I have quoted a representative, nausea-inducing passage from the book below, but here is a quick tease:

These rats were nuisances, and the packers would put poisoned bread out for them; they would die, and then rats, bread, and meat would go into the hoppers together.

These reports shocked an incredulous nation. President Teddy Roosevelt, for instance, initially concluded that Sinclair must be “a crackpot.” Yet subsequent investigation confirmed Sinclair’s reporting (although claims that workers who fell into rendering vats were ground into lard were not officially substantiated). Public outcry led to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and ultimately the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration in 1930.

And yet, consumer protection requires vigilant oversight, and that is exactly what critics say was lacking during the administration of George H.W. Bush, when low-grade ammonia-treated “lean beef trimmings” previously reserved for pet food were declared safe for human consumption. According to The Daily, health concerns were muted by JoAnn Smith, Undersecretary of the USDA.

Then for the next two decades, apparently, Smith’s successors at the USDA were out to lunch.

What’s the Significance?

Pink slime is everywhere. It’s sold in grocery stores and served in school lunches, meaning most of us have probably consumed it at some point in our lives. The government purchased 7 million pounds of pink slime for school lunches just last year. While the USDA announced it would let schools opt out this week, food administrators and consumers alike have found pink slime to be so ubiquitous that it is nearly impossible to avoid. Some experts estimate it can be found in up to 70 percent of the ground beef sold in grocery stores.

In other words, we know how the sausage is made. We don’t like how it is made, but we don’t know how to avoid it. That is because you will never see packaged meat in the grocery store labeled “pink slime.”

How Can I Avoid Pink Slime In Meat?

Look for meat that is labelled “USDA Organic” and shop at stores such as WholeFoods and Costco that have guaranteed their products don’t contain pink slime. Your other choices are to go vegetarian, or grind your own meat (or watch a butcher do it for you).

More.

From Mother Jones:

Here is a document the USDA doesn’t want you to see. It’s what the agency calls a “technical review”—nothing more than a USDA-contracted researcher’s simple, blunt summary of recent academic findings on the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant infections and their link with factory animal farms. The topic is a serious one. A single antibiotic-resistant pathogen, MRSA—just one of many now circulating among Americans—now claims more lives each year than AIDS.

Back in June, the USDA put the review up on its National Agricultural Library website. Soon after, a Dow Jones story quoted a USDA official who declared it to be based on “reputed, scientific, peer-reviewed, and scholarly journals.” She added that the report should not be seen as a “representation of the official position of USDA.” That’s fair enough—the review was designed to sum up the state of science on antibiotic resistance and factory farms, not the USDA’s position on the matter.

But around the same time, the agency added an odd disclaimer to the top of the document: “This review has not been peer reviewed. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Department of Agriculture.” And last Friday, the document (original link) vanished without comment from the agency’s website. The only way to see the document now is through the above-linked cached version supplied to me by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

What gives? Why is the USDA suppressing a review that assembles research from “reputed, scientific, peer-reviewed, and scholarly journals”?

To understand the USDA’s quashing of a report it had earlier commissioned, published, and praised, you first have to understand a key aspect of industrial-scale meat production. You see, keeping animals alive and growing fast under cramped, unsanitary conditions is tricky business. One of the industry’s tried-and-true tactics is low-level, daily doses of antibiotics. The practice helps keep infections down, at least in the short term, and, for reasons no one really understands, it pushes animals to fatten to slaughter weight faster.

Altogether, the US meat industry uses 29 million pounds of antibiotics every year. To put that number in perspective, consider that we humans in the United States—in all of our prescription fill-ups and hospital stays combined—use just over 7 million pounds per year. Thus the vast bulk of antibiotics consumed in this country, some 80 percent, goes to factory animal farms.

For years, scientists have worried that the industry’s reliance on antibiotics was contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. The European Union took action to curtail routine antibiotic use on farms in 2006 (taking Sweden’s lead, which had banned the practice 20 years before).

But here in the United States, the regulatory approach has been completely laissez-faire—and the meat industry would like to keep it that way. The industry claims that even though antibiotic-resistant bacteria have been found both in confined animals and supermarket meat, there’s simply no evidence that livestock strains are jumping to the human population.

Here is where we get back to that now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t USDA research summary, which reads like a heavily footnoted rebuttal to the industry line. Assembled by Vaishali Dharmarha, a research assistant at the University of Maryland, the report summarizes research from 63 academic papers and government studies. Here are few of her findings:

• “Use and misuse of antimicrobial drugs in food animal production and human medicine is the main factor accelerating antimicrobial resistance.”

• “[F]ood animals, when exposed to antimicrobial agents, may serve as a significant reservoir of resistant bacteria that can transmit to humans through the food supply.”

• “Several studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on antimicrobial-resistant Salmonella showed that [antibiotic resistance] in Salmonella strains was most likely due to the antimicrobial use in food animals, and that most infections caused by resistant strains are acquired from the consumption of contaminated food.”

• “Farmers and farm workers may get exposed to resistant bacteria by handling animals, feed, and manure. These exposures are of significant concern to public health, as they can transfer the resistant bacteria to family and community members, particularly through person-to-person contacts.”

• “Resistant bacteria can also spread from intensive food animal production area to outside boundaries through contact between food animals and animals in the external environment. Insects, flies, houseflies, rodents, and wild birds play an important role in this mode of transmission. They are particularly attracted to animal wastes and feed sources from where they carry the resistant bacteria to several locations outside the animal production facility.”

Naturally, such assertions didn’t please the meat industry—and the fact that they were backed up by dozens of peer-reviewed science papers no doubt only sharpened the sting. In the trade paper National Hog Farmer, a National Pork Producers Council official lashed out. Perhaps lacking factual ammunition, the official resorted to an attack on the researchers’ credentials: “We find it very disappointing that a research assistant at a university, who is not an Agricultural Research Service scientist, can develop and post such a review without it going through an agency or peer review process.”

Well, the pork producers can rest a bit easier. The researcher, Dharmarha, has been silenced. Not only has her report been erased from the USDA site, but she has been forbidden to talk to media.

More.

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