by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Beef

Aug 16 2021

Least credible ad of the week: “Beefing Up Sustainability”


My colleague, Lisa Young, forwarded this ad to me from the weekend’s Wall Street Journal.

In case it’s too small for you to read, the ad makes some eyebrow-raising points:

  • “If all U.S. livestock were eliminated and every American followed a vegan diet, greenhouse gas emissions 0would only be reduced by 2%, or 0.36% globally.”
  • “Plus, cattle play an important role in protecting and enhancing our ecosystems by increasing carbon storage, improving soil health, mitigating wildfires, and providing habitat for wildlife.”
  • “We all play a role in a more sustainable future, but eliminating beef is not the answer.”

This, in case it is not instantaneously obvious, is part of the beef industry’s well documented effort to fight concerns about the well documented role of beef production in climate change.

The ad is paid for by the Beef Checkoff, one of the USDA-sponsored marketing and promotion programs funded by what is essentially a tax—the “checkoff”—on producers.  I recently wrote about how the Beef Checkoff funds research in this industry’s interest.

The ad cites research studies supporting its statements, but these are cherry-picked.

Estimates of the percent of greenhouse gases contributed by lifestock production vary, but the most widely accepted range from 14% to 18%.  Beef accounts for at least 10%.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, for example, says:

Total emissions from global livestock: 7.1 Gigatonnes of Co2-equiv per year, representing 14.5 percent of all anthropogenic GHG emissions…Cattle (raised for both beef and milk, as well as for inedible outputs like manure and draft power) are the animal species responsible for the most emissions, representing about 65% of the livestock sector’s emissions…feed production and processing (this includes land use change) and enteric fermentation from ruminants are the two main sources of emissions, representing 45 and 39 percent of total emissions, respectively.

The New York Times describes foods that have the largest  impact on climate change.

Meat and dairy, particularly from cows, have an outsize impact, with livestock accounting for around 14.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases each year. That’s roughly the same amount as the emissions from all the cars, trucks, airplanes and ships combined in the world today.

In general, beef and lamb have the biggest climate footprint per gram of protein, while plant-based foods tend to have the smallest impact. Pork and chicken are somewhere in the middle.

A study published in Science calculated the average greenhouse gas emissions associated with different foods.  The New York Times summarizes its results:

Beef production creates emissions of methane as well as carbon dioxide from multiple sources: feed production, cow burps, manure production, etc.

Beef production that involves grazing on grasslands could meet sustainability goals, but beef cattle raised in feedlots cannot.

There are plenty of environmental reasons for eating less beef, and these are on top of health reasons.

The Beef Checkoff ad does not tell the whole story, alas.

Addition

Lisa reminds me that the cost of a full-page color ad in the Wall Street Journal runs around $200,000.

Aug 4 2021

Why food companies sponsor research: the Beef Checkoff explains

Jessi Silverman, a policy associate at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, sent me this one with a note that it might be fodder for my blog.  It most definitely is.

I have long argued that industry sponsorship of nutrition research is not about science; it is about marketing.   The beef industry explains how this works.

Nutrition Research Improves Public Perception of Beef

As the Beef Checkoff celebrates its 35th anniversary, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), a contractor to the Beef Checkoff, is shining a light on the successful promotion and research programs that drive the demand for beef. Consumers today are more open to the nutritional benefits of beef than at any other time since the Checkoff began more than three decades ago but getting here was not easy and required consistent long-term investment in nutrition research to turn the tide [my emphasis].

And what research did the Beef Checkoff fund?

Two landmark studies reinforce that beef not only fits heart healthy diets but may also help decrease risk of cardiovascular disease when included in heart healthy diets. The Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet (BOLD) study found that people can enjoy 4-5½ ounces of lean beef daily, as part of a heart healthy lifestyle to lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels.3  The Mediterranean-style eating pattern study found that eating a Mediterranean diet that included 7-18 ounces of lean red meat per week can improve cardiometabolic disease risk factor profiles.4

Although citations 3 and 4 appeared in the text, no reference list is given, and I could not find references 3 and 4 on the Beef Research site.

I had better luck with Google.  The BOLD study dates from 2012.  It discloses support from the Beef Checkoff Program and the General Clinical Research Center, Pennsylvania State University.  For the record, Checkoff programs are sponsored by the USDA.

I’m guessing the second study is this recent one:  Effect of varying quantities of lean beef as part of a Mediterranean-style dietary pattern on lipids and lipoproteins: a randomized crossover controlled feeding trial.  “This study was funded by the Beef Checkoff. This study also was supported by the USDA, ARS, and the Penn State Clinical and Translational Research Institute, Pennsylvania State University Clinical and Translational Science Award, and NIH/National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences grant no. UL1TR000127.”

Here’s a clip from a press release for the second study:

Eating red meat may have a bad reputation for being bad for the heart, but new research found that lean beef may have a place in healthy diets, after all.

The Beef Checkoff takes full credit for sponsoring this kind of research.  It gets what it pays for.

The beef industry is under enormous pressure.  More and more people understand that the health of humans and the planet would be a lot better with eating less beef.

Sponsoring research is an effective way to counter such pressures.

Aug 9 2018

Global Meat News on the meat market in China

This is a collection of articles on the Chinese market for meat from the daily industry newsletter, Global Meat News.

Special Edition: Focus on China
China has been the highlight of the international meat market this year in terms of re-igniting unexpected relationships for trade access and its continuous clashes with the US market. With the Asian sector ramping up its global position, will we see China dominate the meat market in years to come?

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Aug 10 2017

Are we done with pink slime? $177 million says yes.

Remember “pink slime?”  This is the pejorative name given to “mechanically tenderized finely textured beef” an ingredient added to meat products.  Its maker, Beef Products, Inc, sued ABC for defamation.  Disney, which owns ABC, settled the case out of court in June—for $177 million according to Business Insider.

Disney paid Beef Products Inc. (BPI) $177 million to settle the ‘pink slime’ lawsuit that claimed a story ABC ran in 2012 misled viewers and caused hundreds of layoffs.  On Wednesday, Walt Disney Co’s quarterly earnings report revealed that the company spent $177 million “in connection with the settlement of litigation” last quarter.

Addition: Food Safety News says the $177 million is on top of the totality of ABC’s insurance.

Here is ABC’s statement. (don’t you love getting news via Twitter?):

I am hoping that I will never have to write about pink slime again.  For the record, here is a summary of my posts on the topic, dating back to 2009.

 

 

 

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Jun 13 2017

Pink Slime again: The lawsuit

Remember “pink slime” the pejorative name for what BPI (Beef Products International) much prefers to call “lean, finely textured beef (LFTB),” so much so that it is suing ABC News under South Dakota’s “disparagement of agriculture” or food libel law.

This is not a joke.  BPI is suing for $1.9 billion in damages and this could go to $5.7 billion under South Dakota’s Food Product Disparagement Act.

The New York Times recounts the history of pink slime and reminds us that Michael Moss won a won a Pulitzer Prize for an article in which he mentions it in 2010.

I am riveted by Dan Flynn’s account of the trial in Food Safety News.

May 30:  The trial opens, with ironic timing.

But the BPI vs. ABC lawsuit is going forward just as demand is also coming back for LFTB, two years after depiction of the product in the media as “pink slime” put consumer pressure on retailers and restaurants to pull the product.Now, however, many of those same restaurants and retailers fear losing their customers for beef patties because they cost too much. LFTB, produced by both BPI and Cargill, is in demand to keep hamburger prices down.

June 5:  The jury trial begins.

At issue is whether the the network and its reporter violated South Dakota’s Agriculture Food Product Disparagement Act. If it did, any award won at trial  could be tripled under the Act — to as much as $5.7 billion in this case. The jury will have to decide if the network and its reporter defamed the product known within the meat industry as lean finely textured beef by repeatedly referring to it as “pink slime” in numerous reports beginning in March 7, 2012.

June 8:  BPI’s chief witness testifies.  She is professor Mindy Brashears, director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence at Texas Tech.

She told the jury that BPI’s lean finely textured beef (LFTB) is meat, is beef, is nutritious and is entirely safe to eat…In the past four years, Brashears said, she not only examined everything she could find about BPI, but also conducted her own studies. Her time on the project totaled 1,250 hours and BPI paid her a private consulting rate of $250 an hour for a total of about $335,000.

June 9:  ABC’s lawyer,  Dane Butswinkas, starts his cross-examination

Butswinkas did get the professor to admit BPI was suspended from the National School Lunch Program on multiple occasions in 2007 and 2008. Brashears said those suspensions were essentially voluntary actions by BPI taken after pathogens were discovered in its product by the lab working for the lunch program. She said the action was consistent with BPI’s food safety plan.

I have a long-standing interest in this case, dating back to 2009 when I first started writing about it.

I will continue to follow this trial with great interest.  Most lawyers I know think that food libel laws will not hold up in court.  Let’s see what this jury says.

Jun 8 2017

What’s up with trade in agriculture?

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue says this about our new “trade breakthrough” with China:

This is tremendous news for the American beef industry, the agriculture community, and the U.S. economy in general.  We will once again have access to the enormous Chinese market, with a strong and growing middle class, which had been closed to our ranchers for a long, long time. .. When the Chinese people taste our high-quality U.S. beef, there’s no doubt in my mind that they’ll want more of it.”

Why “breakthrough”?  China refused to buy US beef after a case of mad cow disease turned up.

The  point of US trade policy is to have open markets for our products.  USDA has a quick summary of our current balance of trade.  We are doing pretty well with it.

And here’s why:

Hence: Selling beef to China should up those numbers.

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Aug 31 2015

Bacteria in ground beef dangerous or natural? Depends on point of view, apparently.

Consumer Reports has just done a major report on the safety of ground beef.

In its announcement of the report, Consumer Reports says:

All 458 pounds of beef we examined contained bacteria that signified fecal contamination (enterococcus and/or nontoxin-producing E. coli)…Almost 20 percent contained C. perfringens, a bacteria that causes almost 1 million cases of food poisoning annually. Ten percent of the samples had a strain of S. aureus bacteria that can produce a toxin that can make you sick…One of the most significant findings of our research is that beef from conventionally raised cows was more likely to have bacteria overall, as well as bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, than beef from sustainably raised cows.

For public health people, results like this should send alarm signals.  The presence of E. coli, even the non-toxic type, indicates fecal contamination.  This is more than a yuck problem.  If E. coli is there, dangerous fecal pathogens could be there too.

But the North American Meat Institute headlined its response: “Consumer Reports Ground Beef Study Confirms Strong Safety of Ground Beef.”

The “bacteria identified in the Consumer Reports testing are types that rarely cause foodborne illness. Bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus, and generic E. coli are commonly found in the environment and are not considered pathogenic bacteria…Bacteria occur naturally on all raw food products from beef to blueberries so finding certain types on some foods in a grocery store is not surprising and should not be concerning,”

For the meat industry, fecal contamination is normal, natural, and you don’t need to worry about it—just be sure to cook your meat to a temperature high enough to kill all pathogens.

Good luck with that.

My advice: if you like ground beef rare, go to a butcher shop and ask to have one piece of meat ground for you in a freshly cleaned grinder.

Dec 18 2013

American Meat Institute defines Fine, Lightly Textured Beef (a.k.a. “pink slime”)

Yesterday, the American Meat Institute sent out an advisory to the news media with a helpful glossary of terms to “use and avoid in coverage of lean finely textured beef” (LFTB).

Lean finely textured beef (LFTB)?  Recall the pejorative: “pink slime?”

Academic that I am, I love precise meanings.

The AMI says these terms are proper to use:

Lean Finely Textured Beef: This product is produced by Beef Products,  Inc.  More detail is available at www.beefisbeef.com.

Finely Textured Beef: This product is produced by Cargill.  More detail is available at www.groundbeefanswers.com.

Beef: Both LFTB and FTB are defined as beef by USDA.

Product: Just as a steak or roast are considered a product of a company, LFTB and FTB are products of BPI and Cargill respectively.

But AMI says, you should never use this term:

Pink Slime: While this term has been commonly used to describe LFTB, there is nothing slimy about it.  The negative connotation of the phrase “pink slime” shows bias and is inappropriate to describe a wholesome, safe, nutritious and USDA inspected beef product.

You also are not supposed to use the terms Filler, Binder, Extender, or Additive.

Aren’t you happy to have this clarified?

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