A recent study from Consumer Reports was all over the news yesterday. I first heard about it on NPR:
This week, Consumer Reports released a looking at bacteria on turkey meat that are resistant to medicines used for humans. Scientists there tested 257 samples of raw ground turkey meat that they purchased at grocery stores around the country. They conclude that turkey meat that came from turkeys raised organically without antibiotics was significantly less likely to harbor resistant bacteria compared with meat from conventional turkeys that were given antibiotics.
As Tom Philpott explains at Mother Jones,
Overall, 90 percent of the samples tested by CR researchers carried at least one of the five bacteria they looked for—and “almost all” of the bacteria strains they found showed resistance to at least one antibiotic. The two fecal-related bacteria strains—enterococcus and E. coli—showed up the most frequently…. What’s more, those bacteria tended to be superbugs—that is, resistant to at least one antibiotic…. Consumer Reports also tested samples of ground turkey labeled “organic,” “no antibiotics” and “raised without antibiotics.” (Under USDA code, meat labeled organic must come from animals that were never treated with antibiotics.) The bacterial strains that turned up in these products were much less likely to be antibiotic-resistant.
“Where are all these antibiotics coming from?” you ask. Andrew Gunther, Program Director of Animal Welfare Approved, puts in this way at Huffington Post:
The problem is that most consumers are still not aware that virtually all intensively farmed animals in the U.S. now routinely receive low, sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics in their feed and water. In fact, we use more antibiotics per pound of meat produced than any other nation in the world and a staggering 80 percent of all the antibiotics produced in the U.S. are used on food-producing animals. The reason? Feeding regular doses of sub-therapeutic antibiotics helps to maximize production of meat, milk or eggs by improving feed efficiency or by suppressing diseases that would inevitably spread in the confined, dirty, and stressful conditions of intensive livestock operations.
I’ve posted about the issue of antibiotic resistance before; for more, especially coverage of why the FDA’s current policy direction will have little effect, check out my earlier posts here, here, and here. As Tom Laskawy writes at Grist,
The USDA has plenty of compelling evidence that attacking the problems at the source — that is, reducing the amount of antibiotics used in meat production — could drastically lower the most dangerous forms of bacterial contamination. But the USDA is too hemmed in by industry to make those changes.
And that’s where you, the consumers, come in. Your role goes beyond practicing good food safety at home and using helpful resources, like the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s new “Risky Meat Guide,” to avoid meat with the highest rates of bacterial contamination.
One of the great food-system success stories in recent years involves the dairy industry’s reluctant abandonment of artificial growth hormones in the face of a virtual revolt by (mostly) mothers of small children. If meat eaters demand meat raised without antibiotics — it’s not significantly more expensive to buy, as it doesn’t have to be organic — the industry will be forced to respond. Producers will have to change the ways they raise animals, which will have the added benefit of lessening the need for repeated chemical disinfection at the slaughterhouse.
That’s better for the animals, for workers, and for consumers — even vegetarians, since antibiotic-resistant bacteria aren’t just on meat anymore.
So, meat eaters. What are you waiting for?
The goal of the New England Meat Conference is to enhance the production, processing, and marketing of sustainable, nutritious, humanely-raised, and delicious meat from New England farms by providing educational and networking opportunities for meat producers, processors and consumers….
As the first conference ever to focus specifically on meat production in New England, it will bring together those involved in meat production from field to table, including farmers, processors, distributors, chefs, technical assistance providers, members of our state and federal governments, and many others.
The first (and hopefully now annual) gathering of New England meat producers and processors was, as someone said, a fantastic “peek behind the curtain” at all the moving parts that make local meat happen. When we eat humanely raised meat, do we ever think of the guy who sells poultry processing equipment, the bookkeeper at the rendering plant, the slaughterhouse operator, the trucking distributor, the health inspector, the artisan butcher, the farm auditor, or the animal science researcher? It truly takes a village to serve a steak, and members of this village were well represented at the conference.
For Abels’s full post, including great links and a brief video, head here. And, check out the conference’s website for PDFs of the slides from more than a dozen presentations, including “Producing and Marketing Heritage Breed Pigs” and “Raising Small Ruminants with an Eye to Finance and Sustainability.”
Denise Sakaki recently had a nice post over at Honest Cooking. In it, she interviews a former vegetarian turned conscientious omnivore. As Sakaki describes in her introduction,
Like many people who have taken the time to carefully consider their dietary choices, Jane has been a vegetarian for several years, but recently, she made the decision to become an omnivore. It seems like an unusual decision, but her reasoning is heartfelt and educated, and potentially a sign that others are making similar choices, based on the movement towards improved farming practices. This person’s story is not an argument for or against certain dietary principles, it’s an intelligent viewpoint into being aware of how livestock are cared for, and how that affects our health of body and mind, as well as an inspiration for us all to consider feasting responsibly.
It’s a nice piece that captures one individual’s process of thinking through her beliefs about food that comes from animals. As Jane puts it herself,
My life up until now as a pescetarian, vegetarian and vegan helped me gain extensive knowledge about nutrition and cooking without the use of animal products. Having not had meat in the equation for so long allows me to stay away from the all too common mentality that a meal isn’t complete without meat. Meat is a privilege and a treat. I hope that as our society progresses, more and more people learn about where their food comes from and the importance of eating consciously.
Head here for the full piece.
I can’t undertake this six-week thing pretending it’s the beginning of forever. Maybe I will have some kind of vegetarian conversion experience. Maybe I won’t. But the last times I decided to stop eating meat, I didn’t provide myself with any continuing education that might have helped me to, well, not really want to eat meat.
So this time I am not only not going to eat meat, I am also simultaneously going to read a lot about meat and what it takes resource-wise to produce it — so that this information is doing more than lurking in the back of my mind in some half-remembered Granta article or image of a pigeon-pecked turkey carcass. I’m going to learn about slaughterhouses. I’m going to look at pictures of dead animals and read books about them. I’m going to try to watch someone kill an animal. I’m going to find out about what industrial farming does to animals and to the planet…. [I]t’s my sneaking suspicion that the more you know about meat, the less you actually want to put it in your mouth.
With Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals as her primary guide, she examines many of the practices at the core of factory farming. So, the descriptions (and occasionally photos) can be pretty stomach-turning. What’s most appealing to me about her posts is her attempt to confront the harsh realities of not only raising and killing vast numbers of animals for food but also our own human weaknesses. As she describes in her third post,
I am, so far, not succeeding in squelching my desire to eat meat. The stuff still appeals to me, obviously, or I wouldn’t have put that piece of bacon in my mouth. Yes, I did so before I’d read the pig chapters [of Eating Animals] very closely. But the idea of bacon, even though I haven’t eaten it again, is still far from disgusting to me. Even after reading all that.
And I was feeling so good about being so quickly grossed out by chicken and fish! It occurs to me that maybe I just don’t like chicken and fish as much as I like bacon.
It is dawning on me that for now, no matter what I know, or how much I learn, if I can stick to not eating meat it is probably going to have to be a decision, something I force on myself. The thing is, I think eating factory-farmed meat is wrong, and that is a long way from where I was when I started this. But my desire to eat meat has not gone away, either.
So now I say I despise cruelty against animals, and insist that I am affected by it; what does it mean that I could still feasibly eat them?
Amy Mayer’s recent piece for Harvest Public Media examines a current proposal to change the USDA’s poultry inspection system. She writes,
Retired federal inspector Phyllis McKelvey spent 44 years looking for blemishes and other defects on chicken carcasses. She started as an inspector’s helper, worked her way up, and in 1998, became part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture trial.
“I was one of the first group of inspectors ever put on HIMP,” she said in an interview from her home in north Alabama.
Fourteen years later, the HIMP* [see footnote below] inspection system is at the center of controversial new regulations proposed by the USDA for chicken and turkey processors. It’s all part of an attempt to modernize an inspection system that dates back to 1950s-era poultry law….
For links and a map of federally inspected poultry plants, as well as audio and print versions of Mayer’s full piece, head here.
The USDA program garnered attention and generated controversy last spring. Although it isn’t on the front pages today, the story continues. Three recent guest editorials at the website of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution help give a sense of some of the competing views. As moderator Rick Badie describes,
The USDA wants to reduce the number of chicken plant inspectors and increase line speeds that process and inspect carcasses to 175 birds per minute from 140. Critics, including two of today’s guest columnists, have cried foul with concerns about poultry worker safety and consumers of chicken products. A Georgia poultry executive defends the modernization of processing lines in an industry that contributes $18.4 billion a year to the state economy.
Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, writes in her contribution that
The USDA readily admits that the poultry industry will stand to earn an additional $260 million per year by removing the cap on line speeds, and tries to explain away the risk of contamination by promoting the use of a chemical cocktail at the end of the slaughter process. Companies are allowed to use chlorine, tri-sodium phosphate (used to clean cement) and hypobromous acid (used to clean swimming pools) to treat poultry for salmonella and to sterilize feces that might still be on carcasses.
The proposed rule puts company employees in the role of protecting consumer safety, but does not require them to receive any training or prove proficiency in performing duties normally performed by government inspectors who are required to take training before they are assigned to the slaughter line.
Lack of training is not the only impact this rule will have on workers. Increasing line speeds will have a negative impact on worker safety….
All three editorials are worth a read, so check them out here.
*Harvest Public Media translates this serving of classic bureaucratic alphabet soup: “HIMP stands for HACCP-based Inspection Models Program. HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, a method of identifying potential problem areas and maintaining written plans for managing the risks they present.”
If I happened upon the scene of a vehicle-meets-wildlife road accident, I know full well that I’d be woefully ill-equipped to put the grievously injured animal out of its misery, much less turn its carcass into food. Jackson Landers, though, is decidedly not me. The author of 2012′s Eating Aliens: One Man’s Adventures Hunting Invasive Animal Species and 2011′s The Beginner’s Guide to Hunting Deer for Food, Landers recently wrote a piece for Slate describing such an experience.
As he details,
Moments before I arrived on the scene, the SUV’s driver’s plans for the day had been interrupted by a black bear trotting out in front of her vehicle…. The bear and the SUV were the only casualties.
I’m a professional hunting guide, so my first concern was for the bear, which lay dying on its side in the middle of the road. It was struggling to get up with its front paws, but its back legs were clearly paralyzed, and there was no hope for the animal. I put down several wounded deer by the side of the road each year, but I had neglected to stash a spare rifle in my truck that morning. I did, however, have a very large hunting knife. A quick jab in the heart ended the animal’s suffering.
I dragged the bear out of the road so traffic could start moving again, and then I waited for the police to arrive in order to obtain permission to keep the bear. (Being in possession of a dead bear outside of bear-hunting season can get you charged with poaching unless you get special approval.) I had realized that this was as perfect an opportunity as I would ever have to find out what bear meat tastes like. Disassembling a 150-pound dead bear wasn’t what I’d had planned for the evening (I’d intended to catch up on The Walking Dead), but I’m a carpe diem kind of guy. An hour later I found myself the proud, legal owner of one dead black bear.
For the answer, including some food for thought about eating animals, check out the full essay here.
I recently listened to the podcast of a November episode of This American Life that included a segment (OK, an “act” for TAL diehards) titled “Rabbit Run. No, Really, Run!”
In it, Camas Davis, journalist and founder of the Portland Meat Collective, “tells a true story about a rabbit kidnapping that saves some rabbits’ lives, kills those same rabbits’ babies, and leaves students in a Portland rabbit-butchering class scratching their heads.”
If you’re rabidly pro-meat, vociferously vegan, or anywhere in between, it’s a story worth checking out here (for the autoplay version) or here (for the version where you must click the little arrow to start playing).
To get together, to share experiences and learn, and you can see there’s a spirit of sharing and showing and telling what you do and how you do it, and that’s the premise of it. I wanted to keep it fun and light, and that’s why I called it Grrls Meat Camp, instead of something serious, like A Conference about Women and Meat.
Also featured in the piece is Kari Underly, author of The Art of Beef Cutting and winner of the online “Who’s Your Butcher?” video contest. It’s a nice piece, so check out the audio below or at the WBEZ website, where you can also find the text version of the story.
I’ve decided to start a new series of occasional posts that will highlight burgers around town (or encountered in my travels) that are vegetarian or vegan alternatives to the traditional burger or else that feature humanely, sustainably raised and typically local meat.
Unbeknownst to me while I was planning this new endeavor, some friends recently started a Madison Burger Championship that pits area meat-based burgers in head-to-head competition using a bracket system à la NCAA March Madness. Their most recent outing was to Sardine for brunch this past Sunday, and J and I joined them. Before we arrived I thought I’d be skipping the burger, but I soon changed my mind. Here’s the rundown:
- Menu description: “Organic, grass-fed Angus® house burger grilled, topped with arugula, tomato, choice of gruyère, sharp cheddar or gorgonzola, and aïoli”
- Included sides: Mixed greens, frites, and a few cornichons and pickled-onion slices
- Price: $11
- Website: For more about Sardine, including hours and menus, head here
I asked our server whether he knew where the meat came from; he didn’t but immediately asked a colleague in the know. I was very pleased to learn that the beef comes from Cates Family Farm, who’ve been featured here before. I opted for the blue cheese and medium temperature; J went with cheddar and medium-rare. Altogether, our group of eight ordered every cheese option and temperatures from medium-rare up to medium-well.
As you can see in the photo below, the sides were extremely generous in portion. The burger itself is a deliciously messy affair thanks to a patty bursting with juicy goodness, melting cheese, and slippery aioli between a chewy, toasted ciabatta. (In case you can’t tell, that’s a steak knife skewering the sandwich.) Burger doneness seems to be a tricky proposition for some restaurants, but our group was in agreement that Sardine did quite a good job with all of our requests. The one quibble I had with my burger was that I found the very sizable topping of gorgonzola a bit overpowering—it is possible to have too much of a good thing. In contrast, I snagged a bite of J’s cheddar burger, and it was perfectly balanced, with the taste of the high-quality local meat having a chance to really shine alongside the other flavors. The two members of our group who ordered gruyère said they found it more subtle than I described my gorgonzola experience.
I don’t know how Sardine’s house burger will eventually fare in our friends’ burger bracket, but it was certainly a fantastic way to start this new series of posts. Watch for further entries to pop up now and then in the coming months. To be sure you don’t miss any, use the links on this page (if you haven’t already) to follow the blog via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, or RSS feed.
Our film is very much about the struggle that farmers face. Food, Inc. did a great job of talking about some of the ethical and moral issues of meat production and animal husbandry in America. We actually introduce you to the farmers on both sides, the commodity farmers and the pasture-based farmers, and we show you the challenges they face and the joys they share. Our film is not a polemic; it’s not an expose. When you watch it you’ll empathize with everyone in the film.
Meriwether has been touring to college campuses and other venues to screen the movie and engage diverse audiences in post-film conversations. In response to Thompson’s query about how heated those conversations get, Meriwether had this to say:
[Missouri Pork Association executive director] Don Nikodim is critical in a respectful way. He doesn’t believe that grass-based systems are going to ever replace conventional systems. [People like Nikodim] have spent a lot of time and money and passion to build a certain system of agriculture, and if you have dedicated your life to that, then of course you’re gonna stand up for what you believe in.
At the University of Missouri screening, it was funny, because after every time Don Nikodim said something, all of the conventional ag students would erupt into applause. And every time Paul Willis or Mary Hendrickson would say something, everyone [else] would erupt into applause. There wasn’t any negative energy; there hasn’t been a single personal attack or anything.
Head to both interviews for the full scoop, check out the film’s website, and watch the movie trailer below. For still more, head to YouTube for the panel discussion (called Where the Beef? Your Hamburger in 2050) where the photo above was taken.