Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Going to the Superstore? Don't Buy the Burger!

I can tell you from experience that it's hard to have conversations about local organic food. Right now organic producers spend a lot of time trying to declare what it is - by defining what it's not.
Here's an article that should help you understand how important that distinction can be.

There are a lot of people in conventional agriculture who are no longer amused by the small organic farmer, even though we've been easy to dismiss with a roll of the eyes and a laugh for the past 30 years.

That's changing. The consumer herd is getting nervous. They're starting find reasons to wonder where their next meal is coming from and the answer is - sometimes scary.

This week, the New York Times published a piece of investigative journalism the likes of which we haven't seen in a hundred years. It features the story of a 22 year old American woman who is now paralyzed from the waist down because she ate processed hamburgers her mother bought at the grocery store. The meat was tainted with E. Coli. And just like thousands of other people this year, she was poisoned by a food supply she trusted to be safe.

From the article:

Stephanie Smith, a children’s dance instructor, thought she had a stomach virus. The aches and cramping were tolerable that first day, and she finished her classes.

Then her diarrhea turned bloody. Her kidneys shut down. Seizures knocked her unconscious. The convulsions grew so relentless that doctors had to put her in a coma for nine weeks. When she emerged, she could no longer walk. The affliction had ravaged her nervous system and left her paralyzed.

Sad enough, but was this an isolated case? You might think so. But read on.

The frozen hamburgers that the Smiths ate, which were made by the food giant Cargill, were labeled “American Chef’s Selection Angus Beef Patties.” Yet confidential grinding logs and other Cargill records show that the hamburgers were made from a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin. The ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria.

It seems that even with the huge numbers of food poisonings and product recalls, the standards for commercial processing of beef allow the problem to go on and go undetected. Because of this, a 22 year old dance teacher is no longer dancing. She's no longer walking either.

And in case you're wondering:

Food scientists have registered increasing concern about the virulence of this pathogen since only a few stray cells can make someone sick, and they warn that federal guidance to cook meat thoroughly and to wash up afterward is not sufficient. A test by The Times found that the safe handling instructions are not enough to prevent the bacteria from spreading in the kitchen.

(To read the rest of the story, please link to: E.Coli Path Shows Flaw in Beef Inspection by Michael Moss, published in the New York Times, October 3, 2009.)

Don't look for me to suggest that you stop eating beef. As a former cow hand on a family owned California ranch, I can tell you something. We used to know who grew, slaughtered, inspected and butchered the beef we ate. An unscrupulous beef buyer in this area was once found hanging upside down from a ranch gate - howling for help after local cowboys strung him up for trying to rip off local producers.

That's what happens when the public gets fed up. I suggest we all need to be fedup with this kind of food processing. It not only poisons people, it destroys the high standards and honest hard work of farmers and ranchers, local processors and butchers.

Protect your food supply. Buy from local farmers and ranchers who still have a personal stake in the food you eat. Buy from local processors and butchers who personally inspect the meat they cut and sell.

When you see packages of insanely cheap, pre-formed and pre-seasoned beef patties in the grocery freezer - walk on by - while you still can.


beansgood said...

Thanks for posting this! It's really quite frightening to think that something as simple as a hamburger can impact the rest of one's life in such a negative manner.

Here in Canada, Maple Leaf Foods had a situation last year with tainted meats (processed is bad enough) where many people got seriously ill and, even worse, some loss of life resulted. I thought it was four but I just did a search and 22 people died from Listeria tainted meats processed by Maple Leaf.


I'm so thankful to have a butcher in the tiny village where I live in Eastern New Brunswick. Their meat is antibiotic and hormone free, it tastes better and is less expensive than the groceries store prices. I totally support them for many good reasons. They have several loyal clients that don't have any qualms about an 80 km round trip to stock up on what they know is a great deal. In the big cities, this meat sells for a fortune. I'm not clear if it qualifies as 'organic' or not but it's by far a safer choice.

I find it very odd that more of the locals here don't buy their meat locally but some (more like several) of them are seriously still in the dark ages when it comes to such things as nutrition.

John Quimby said...

beansgood - thanks for the comment.
I'm as guilty as anyone of casually plopping items of casual pedigree into my bright, shiny cart.

It's particularly challenging in the urban environment I'm in now.

Even so, my quest is to grow and learn to preserve more of our own foods and to choose local PEI producers for meats and other items we don't produce on the farm.

Here in the city, we've enlisted in an organic CSA program so we can reduce the amount of mega-market shopping we need to do.

Mark & Sally said...

Hi John, just read your comment on my blog and so nice to 'meet' ya! You should stop by the farm next time you're out here!