by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Meat safety

Jan 31 2022

Industry-funded study from 1930: meat is good for you!

I am indebted to David Ludwig for passing along this bit of nutritional history.

The study: PROLONGED MEAT DIETS WITH A STUDY OF KIDNEY FUNCTION AND KETOSIS.*
BY WALTERS. McCLELLAN AND EUGENE F. Du BOIS.  Journal of Biological Chemistry Volume 87, Issue 3, 1 July 1930, Pages 651-668
Method:  Several men agreed to eat nothing but meat for a year.  The meats included beef, lamb, veal, pork, and chicken, in various parts.  This was a high-fat, low-carb diet.  The men lived at home mostly.

Conclusion: In these trained subjects, the clinical observations and laboratory studies gave no evidence that any ill effects had occurred from the prolonged use of the exclusive meat diet.

Funder: These studies were supported in part by a research grant from the Institute of American Meat Packers.

Comment: I did not realize that industry sponsorship of favorable studies went back that far.  I’ll bet there are lots more.  Researchers: start digging!

Nov 30 2021

Will USDA do something about Salmonella at long last?

I am indebted to Politico’s Helena Bottemiller Evich for her detailed analysis of the current status of attempts to keep toxic Salmonella out of meat and poultry.

Background

  • Toxic Salmonella in meat and poultry sicken people who do not safely handle uncooked product.
  • The meat industry argues that Salmonella are intrinsic to meat and poultry and, since the products are cooked and sterilized, Salmonella is not a problem requiring regulation.
  • The FDA says the foods it regulates that are contaminated with Salmonella are subject to enforcement action.
  • USDA has declared toxic forms of E. coli to be adulterants (and, therefore, illegal) in meat and poultry.
  • In January, food safety lawyer Bill Marler petiotioned USDA to declare Salmonella an adulterant in meat and poultry (see story in the Washington Post)
  • Also in January, CSPI and several other consumer groups sent USDA a similar petition.
  • Marler has just visited Washington DC to push for immediate regulation and legislation.

Politico notes that his visit

comes on the heels of a scathing ProPublica investigation about multidrug-resistant Salmonella Infantis in poultry and our “baffling and largely toothless food safety system that is ill-equipped to protect consumers or rebuff industry influence.”

Marler is pushing hard on this issue.

Everyone should be pushing hard on this issue.  It reveals two big food safety problems.

  • The lack of coordination and consistency in food safety oversight by USDA (meat and poultry) and FDA (pretty much everything else).
  • Capture of USDA by the meat industry, which relentlessly opposes stronger safety regulations.

The USDA’s response?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) today announced that it is…initiating several key activities to gather the data and information necessary to support future action and move closer to the national target of a 25% reduction in Salmonella illnesses…Despite consistent reductions in the occurrence of Salmonella in poultry products, more than 1 million consumer illnesses due to Salmonella occur annually, and it is estimated (PDF, 1.4 MB) that over 23% of those illnesses are due to consumption of chicken and turkey. “Reducing Salmonella infections attributable to poultry is one of the Department’s top priorities,” said USDA Deputy Under Secretary Sandra Eskin, who is leading the initiative.

The meat industry’s response?

The North American Meat Institute (Meat Institute) today welcomed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new national goal of reducing Salmonella illnesses by 25 percent and committed to continue working with USDA and other groups to achieve the shared goal of reducing Salmonella infections…we will continue to work with USDA to do all we can to detect and deter incidents of Salmonellosis, especially by coordinating with partners in the supply chain on best practices and research.”

Will this work?  Stay tuned.

Nov 2 2021

Congressional staff report: Covid 3X harder on meatpacking workers

The majority staff of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis has issued a scathing report: “Coronavirus Infections and Deaths Among Meatpacking Workers Were Nearly Three Times Higher than Previous Estimates.”

Newly obtained documents from five of the largest meatpacking conglomerates, which represent over 80 percent of the market for beef and over 60 percent of the market for pork in the United States—JBS USA Food Company (JBS), Tyson Foods, Inc. (Tyson), Smithfield Foods (Smithfield), Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation (Cargill), and National Beef Packing Company, LLC (National Beef)—reveal that coronavirus infections and deaths among their meatpacking workers were substantially higher than previously estimated.

The report’s main findings:

  • Certain meatpacking plants saw particularly high rates of coronavirus infections during the first year of the pandemic. For example, 54.1 percent of the workforce at JBS’ Hyrum, Utah plant contracted the coronavirus between March 2020 and February 2021.
  • Across companies, Tyson saw 29,462 employee infections and 151 employee deaths, and JBS saw 12,859 employee infections and 62 employee deaths.
  • Coronavirus Outbreaks in Meatpacking Plants Disproportionately Impacted Minority Workers
  • The full extent of coronavirus infections and deaths at these meatpacking companies was likely much worse than these figures suggest.
  • OSHA made a political decision not to issue regulatory standards that might require meatpacking companies to take actions to protect workers.

Recall that meatpacking workers were among the first to get sick from Covid-19, causing

The report confirms that Covid-19 in meatpacking workers was and is a national tragedy and scandal, a direct result of corporate consolidation and capture of government.

The report’s recommendations to meatpacking plants, government agencies, and Congress can’t come soon enough.

Jan 7 2021

What Covid-19 is doing to meatpacking workers and communities

A scientific report in Proceedings of the National Academies titled Livestock plants and COVID-19 transmission,” demonstrates the impact of Covid-19 on workers in meat and poultry processing plants.

Our study suggests that, among essential industries, livestock processing poses a particular public health risk extending far beyond meatpacking companies and their employees. We estimate livestock plants to be associated with 236,000 to 310,000 COVID-19 cases (6 to 8% of total) and 4,300 to 5,200 deaths (3 to 4% of total) as of July 21….This study shows that meat and poultry slaughter plants were in fact vectors of the disease…Researchers found that poultry plants showed a significant relationship with COVID-19 cases, with pork plants showing the strongest relationship. Beef plants showed the strongest relationship with deaths from the illness.

The USDA has done its own analysis: “The share of all COVID-19 cases in nonmetro [rural] areas has been growing since late March, increasing from 3.6 percent on April 1 to 15.6 percent on December 7.”

Among nonmetro counties, the highest COVID-19 case rates are found in farming-dependent and manufacturing-dependent counties. The high prevalence of COVID-19 in manufacturing-dependent counties is due partly to higher COVID-19 case rates in meatpacking-dependent counties (those in which 20 percent or more of employment is in the meatpacking industry), almost all of which are manufacturing-dependent counties.

But another USDA report, specifically about the meatpacking industry, looks to me as though it is hiding what is happening in those plants.  It includes a chart indicating no special increase in cases among meatpacking workers.  No surprise, if meatpacking plants are epicenters that spread the infection to the local community (but the report doesn’t say that).

What it does say is this:

The two-week moving average number of new daily cases rose in meatpacking-dependent counties through the remainder of April, reaching a peak of nearly 50 cases per 100,000 by the end of the month. This two-week moving average was more than 10 times the prevalence seen in other rural counties. Even though cases in meatpacking-dependent counties started to decline in the month of May, they remained significantly higher compared to other rural counties, falling to just under seven times the number of average daily cases by the end of May.​…Even though meatpacking-dependent counties are dealing with a second wave, the surge in rural new cases does not appear to be driven by new outbreaks in the meatpacking industry. Meatpacking-dependent counties have maintained an almost identical pattern to other rural counties for a fifth straight month.

Confused?  Me too.  This looks like a whitewash.

Is this one result of the USDA’s moving the Economic Research Service out of Washington DC to Kansas City, a move clearly meant to—successfully—decimate the agency?

Politico asks: can the ERS move be reversed?  Not easily, alas.

It’s a good thing independent scientists and investigators are keeping an eye on this situation.

Leah Douglas of the Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN) deserves much praise for tracking infections and deaths among farm and meatpacking workers.

Jul 29 2020

Don’t raise industrial chickens near orchards, please

For two years, the investigators took swab samples of soil surface, air, and leaves in an almond orchard 35 meters downwind from an industrial poultry farm.  They compared the samples to those collected from two almond orchards (controls) nowhere near a poultry operation.

E. coli was isolated from 41 of 206 (20%) and 1 of 207 (0.48%) air samples in the almond-poultry and control orchards, respectively….On average, the amount of dry solids on leaves collected from trees closest to the poultry operation was more than 2-fold greater than from trees 120 m into the orchard or from any of the trees in the control orchards.

Members of the family Staphylococcaceae—often associated with poultry—were, on average, significantly (P < 0.001) more abundant in the phyllosphere of trees closest to the poultry operation (10% of relative abundance) than in trees 120 m into the orchard (1.7% relative abundance) or from any of the trees in control orchards (0.41% relative abundance).

Poultry-associated microorganisms from a commercial operation transferred a short distance into an adjacent downwind almond orchard.

Contamination of leafy greens grown in California and Arizona near large cattle operations has been a problem for a long time.

This new study adds two pieces of information:

  • Toxic bacteria can travel downwind in air.
  • Poultry operations are just as contaminating as cattle operations.

The moral of this story: Do not grow nuts or fruit or vegetables near industrial meat or poultry operations.

May 29 2020

Weekend reading: The Defense Production Act

I was particularly interested in this article from Food Safety News: “What does the Defense Production Act have to do with food?”

This past week, FDA and USDA issued a Memorandum of Understanding Regarding the Potential Use of the Defense Production Act with Regard to FDA-Regulated Food During the COVID-19 Pandemic. The MOU refers to “potential use” because USDA has not yet invoked its DPA authority. Nor will it, in any likelihood. Messaging matters, however, and so the MOU may still operate to significantly influence the food system. What message does it send exactly?

Good question, and one well worth answering.  The author, Thomas Gremillion, has much to say about the topic, and compellingly.  He argues:

All of this is to say that the April 28 Executive Order is a paper tiger. But to the extent that the Administration sought to cow state and local public health officials, it may have succeeded. According to recent reporting, “As of May 19, nearly all of the once-closed meatpacking plants have started back up.” Large meatpackers have declined to disclose data on how many of their workers have fallen ill or died, but according to an analysis by Johns Hopkins University researchers, the rate of COVID-19 infections for counties with very large meatpacking plants was twice the rate in counties without for the week following the Trump executive order. 

May 5 2020

More on the crisis in meatpacking

Who knew that meatpacking plants would become the flash point for everything that’s wrong with our food system.  An alarming 18% of packinghouse workers are infected with Covid-19—the ones known.

Public health authorities insisted that the plants be closed, and Food Dive lists the ones that did.

Because the plants closed, farmers have nowhere to send their ready-for-slaughter animals.  But, says Civil Eats , don’t blame them for having to cull their animals.  It’s not their fault; it’s the fault of the big companies that own the animals.

Farmers under contract don’t own the animals they are raising, and therefore cannot simply find a new market for them…The reality is that farmers don’t have to option sell the animals anywhere else. If the company tells them to euthanize an entire flock of the bird it owns on the spot, farmers have no choice but to comply—even as consumers clamber over empty shelves in the supermarkets, farmers are forced to depopulate.

What happens to the dead animals?  There really are no good options.

Burning, burying, or composting up to 70,000 hog carcasses a day—or even grinding them into dust—could have serious consequences for our air and drinking water.

What happens to the workers, now forced by presidential order to go back to the plants?

In interviews with poultry workers in Georgia, Arkansas and Mississippi a similar pattern of alleged negligence, secrecy and mismanagement emerged at facilities operated by some of the largest food manufacturers in America…For more than a century, the meatpacking industry has been a symbol of how corporations are able to exploit workers in the name of efficiency. The Covid-19 outbreak has opened another chapter.

Trump, says The Guardian,  is marching meatpacking workers off to their deaths.

With his executive order on Tuesday night, the president is in effect overruling safety-minded governors and mayors who have pressured numerous meat, pork and poultry plants into shutting temporarily after they had become hotspots that were spreading Covid-19 through their surrounding communities. With such a move, Trump is – let’s not mince words here – is showing contempt for both workers’ health and public health.

What is this really all about?  Read this analysis in Dissent.

Why has the pandemic thrived in meat factories? It was a perfect storm caused by a whole raft of dysfunctionalities, from the rise of giant agribusiness companies to the hollowing out of the nation’s regulatory state, and the hyper-exploitation of a vulnerable, largely immigrant working class which staffs the lines. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspections have long been laughable at these plants. Fines, when leveled, tend to be a few thousand dollars, a pittance for billion-dollar corporations. The low-wage workers who staff the plants live in cramped quarters, sometimes with more than one family sharing the same dwelling—so if one person gets sick, the disease can spread quickly…By intervening so directly in the food-chain crisis, the Trump administration has thoroughly politicized the conditions under which food is produced.

I suppose we must thank the Covid-19 pandemic for so clearly exposing deep structural problems and inequities in our food system.

Will a new labor movement arise?  See tomorrow’s post.

Addition

State Attorneys General have written a letter expressing anti-trust concerns about how consolidation in the meat industry has led to this crisis.

Given the concentrated market structure of the beef industry, it may be particularly susceptible to market manipulation, particularly during
times of food insecurity, such as the current COVID-19 crisis. During an economic downturn, such as that caused by the current pandemic, firms’ ability to harm American consumers through market manipulation and coordinated behavior exacts a greater toll, providing an additional reason for conducting a careful inquiry into this industry.

Feb 25 2020

Meat recalls keep going up. It’s time for USDA action.

A report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) says that USDA recalls of meat and poultry have nearly doubled since 2013.

  • USDA posts its recalls and notices here.

The PIRG report says FDA recalls of the products it regulates—produce, seafood, and processed foods—have dropped.  The Food Safety Modernization Act rules are in effect, and working.

  • FDA posts its recalls and notices here.

To do something about meat and poultry recalls, some of which involve Salmonella, food safety lawyer Bill Marler along with  Consumer Reports and other advocacy groups, have petitioned USDA to classify Salmonella as an adulterant, an action that is long overdue (see the Washington Post’s story on Marler’s action.

Does USDA have the authority to do this?  I think yes, even though courts have ruled that because Salmonella can be killed by cooking, they are a natural contaminant.

Yes, but supermarket raw chicken is frequently contaminated with Salmonella and frequently associated with disease outbreaks.

Salmonella-contaminated chicken requires special handling in kitchens: Don’t wash it!  Keep it entirely separate from all other foods.  Don’t put it on counters, plates, or cutting boards that can come in contact with other foods.   In other words, run your kitchen like a maximum security laboratory.

It’s high time the USDA did something about this one.