Something to Beef About


Pity the poor USDA. Hardly a week passes when the government department responsible for the safety of our meat isn't forced to issue a mea culpa about food that has slipped through its inspection system and gotten into the hands (and mouths) of consumers. One explanation is that the organization is cash starved, and chronically short of inspectors to visit slaughterhouses and test meat samples. So imagine what would happen if a little Midwestern packing plant volunteered—at its own expense—to do all the work for the USDA, right down to testing every single steer it processed for dreaded Bovine Spongiform Encepalopathy (mad cow disease). You'd think that the beleaguered bureaucrats would be delighted. But when Creekstone Farms proposed to voluntarily test its animals, the USDA adamantly forbade it to do so. Creekstone subsequently sued and won earlier this year. Case closed? No. Late last month, the dogged USDA announced that it would appeal the decision, much to the delight of the corporate cattlemen who claim that testing American beef for mad cow disease is "misleading" because there is no mad cow disease in the United States—even though it was first detected here over three years ago I have two questions: 1) How do they know there is no mad cow disease here now? And 2) if that's true, then what do they have to worry about? As for the USDA, I wish they'd show the same sort of diligence and determination when it comes to keeping my meat free from listeria, E. coli, and salmonella—not to mention mad cow—as they have been in trying to prevent little Creekstone from doing what every meat packer should be required to do by law.

More from the Food Safety Front

The FDA is testing fewer and fewer imported shipments of seafood. Food and Water Watch points out that over the past four years inspections have plummeted from a not-very-comforting .88 for every 100 loads brought into the country to a downright chilling .59 per 100.

Comparing Apples to Apples

I can think of dozens of reasons (besides scarfing free samples of fresh sheep's milk cheese) to shop at my local farmers market rather than a super center, but cheap food was never one of them. Looks like I was wrong. According to the Seattle Times, Seattle University professor Stacey Jones and her business statistics class compared apples to apples (specifically, organic Fuji apples to organic Fuji apples), and 14 other offerings at a local farmers market to the same stuff at a nearby Quality Food Center supermarket, a branch of the $66 billion Kroger empire. On average, it was less expensive to get your fruits and vegetables directly from the farmers who grew them. In some cases, the savings were truly astounding: a pound of organic asparagus that could be had for $3.00 at a farm stand cost $9.00 at the megastore. "I always assumed you pay a premium," one surprised student told the Times, referring to the farmers market. As summer gets into full swing, it's a lesson all of us should learn.

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