Do You Know Where Your Beef Comes From?

| Jul 28, 2017

Do you know where your beef is being produced?

If not, you should find out as soon as possible, or find a new, more transparent source. On June 22, 2017, the United States suspended beef imports from Brazil, the fifth largest exporter of beef to the U.S. The findings that spurred this action just might make you think twice about purchasing conventionally produced beef.

The export suspension comes on the heels of a two-year investigation by the Brazilian Federal Police, who uncovered extensive corruption throughout the Brazilian beef industry.

Investigators reported that bribery and sanitation report falsification have been rampant—over 1,900 politicians have received approximately $186 million in bribes over the years, and unsanitary or expired meats have routinely been sold.[1]

The USDA reports that a significantly higher percentage of Brazilian beef was being denied, even prior to the suspension (11% instead of the usual 1% from other exporters). The department insists that it inspected 100% of Brazilian imports since March 2017 (when suspicions had already begun to peak), but it’s unclear what quantity of tainted beef was allowed entry into the U.S. in prior years.[2]

In case you need a more specific picture of what comprises “tainted” beef, the USDA discovered (among other disturbing sanitation issues) abscesses in Brazilian beef—that is, collections of built-up pus that normally arise because of microbial infection.

Officials are currently debating the cause of the abscesses (and how worried about them we should be), but it’s pretty hard to whitewash something as gross as pus-filled meat.

Some experts claim that the abscesses are due to rare reactions to foot-and-mouth disease vaccinations given to animals, and that they pose no risk to consumers. There are numerous issues with this argument, though.

There’s no incontrovertible proof that these abscesses pose no risk, and besides, consuming beef from animals treated with vaccines, antibiotics, and other medications carries its own dangers.

Lastly, other experts counter the vaccination theory, arguing that abscesses are appearing too often, and that the infected areas should have been removed during meat processing. This ambiguity opens up many questions about just how contaminated our imported beef really is.

So how do we avoid these disturbing contaminations?

The unfortunate truth is that animal agriculture is a horrid industry rife with unsanitary and destructive practices—and the only way to avoid them completely is to stop eating meat.

There are middle roads, though. For example, many ranchers who believe in sustainably produced beef have fought to enact country-of-origin labeling (COOL) in order to differentiate problematic locales from those with positive track records. The World Trade Organization rejected the policy as “discriminatory,” but many interest groups are still fighting for greater transparency in the beef industry.

Because you can’t yet count on labels to tell you where your beef was produced, it’s up to you to source from producers who use sanitary and health-conscious practices.

One of the best ways to do so is to buy only organic, grass-fed beef. The vast majority of conventional beef is produced through very questionable practices—in a past article, we detailed the rampant cruel and unsanitary practices used in factory farms.

Truly organic, grass-fed beef still makes up a very small percentage of the market (5.3%), so make sure you can verify the authenticity of what you’re purchasing. Independent research reveals that most grass-fed labels cannot be trusted.

The only way to know that cows were truly grass-fed throughout their lives is to buy directly from a trusted farmer, or to buy beef stamped with the American Grassfed Assocation’s seal of approval. Their logo certifies that animals have been fed a 100% forage diet, have never been confined in a feedlot, have never been given antibiotics or hormones, and have been raised on an American farm.

Making educated choices

Remember, though: even the AGA’s sign-off isn’t a license to go wild with beef consumption. All beef production has a significant ecological impact, and consuming too much red meat can have adverse health consequences—the National Institutes of Health recently reported new evidence demonstrating that eating red meat on a regular basis may shorten your lifespan.[3]

Consider watching documentaries like Cowspiracy and What the Health, which provide a comprehensive overview of the impact animal agriculture has on human health and the environment. These superb films can be difficult to watch, but they play an important role in ensuring that we all make educated dietary choices.

If you choose to continuing eating beef, the organic, grass-fed variety (local if possible) is far safer—independent analyses have revealed that grass-fed beef not only tastes better, but also has a lower risk of being infected with pathogens, higher concentrations of antioxidants and conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs), and a much better ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids.

Ranchers who produce organic, grass-fed beef are also often committed to a much higher standard of environmental sustainability than conventional ranchers and beef producers.

There’s no denying that our current beef industry (and the animal agriculture industry in general) has massive problems, but you can do your part to improve the situation by reducing your meat consumption, buying only organic, grass-fed beef, and supporting country-of-origin labeling.

 


References

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/22/world/americas/beef-imports-brazil-united-states.html

[2] https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2017/06/22/perdue-usda-halting-import-fresh-brazilian-beef

[3] https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/risk-red-meat

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