16 February 2011

10 eye-opening facts that every meat eater should take the time to read

1) While transportation systems around the world are responsible for producing 15% of our planet’s overall greenhouse gases -- which, in light of our 7 billion global population isn’t a terribly surprising figure -- global livestock collectively produce a whopping 18% of our planetary carbon emissions. Incidentally, they also plow through 1/3 of our world’s grain crops...hungry little critters.

2) The U.S. meat market is controlled by just a few key players -- including Smithfield, Cargill and Tyson -- employing roughly one USDA-appointed inspector per slaughterhouse across the country. If you’ve ever wondered why meat recalls and bacterial outbreaks seem more frequent than ever before, experts suggest that it’s the result of a ‘fingers crossed’ approach to conducting business coupled with the flexing of their conglomerate muscles. The main meat players in the industry typically weaken and even thwart federal regulations designed to ramp up food safety policies, enabling them to avoid bureaucratic red tape while saving untold amounts of money in the process, all at the expense of the end consumer.

3) Of the 41 million beef cattle slaughtered each year in the United States, the average consumer eats a full 62.4 pounds in the span of one year. The 500 calories of food energy in a one pound steak requires 20,000 calories of fossil fuels, the majority of which is consumed through the crop cultivation process. (As an interesting and slightly related 'aside', half of America's entire water supply is reserved expressly for the bovine population. Glug glug glug.).

4) Companies like Cargill -- the world’s largest agricultural company and producer of beef, pork, and turkey – use the term ‘ground beef’ somewhat loosely. While their product does contain USDA certified moo flesh -- 50% to be exact – it also contains 50% fat trimmings, both of which are sourced from various slaughterhouses in the United States and Uruguay. The fatty, pathogen-susceptible, multi-cattle amalgam -- regularly obtained from the outer section of carcasses where bacterial populations are particularly high -- was once the sole staple of the cooking oil and pet food industries. Today, it happens to be utilized in 70% of the burgers sold in major fast food chains, supermarkets, and school lunch programs.

5) American meat conglomerates have responded to the increased threat of food borne illness emerging from their fatty trimming-enhanced ground beef by adding a disinfecting, “processing agent” called ammonia to the mix. This FDA and USDA-approved technique – which has so far not proven to cause cancer in humans -- incorporates the very same antiseptic chemical used to clean household surfaces, fertilize crops, and kill microbes in animal feed. Tests suggest that there are "potential issues surrounding the palatability” of a product with such a high ph level and concerns regarding whether the chemical does indeed successfully kills disease-causing bacteria.

6) Although Americans are enthusiastic about their burgers, they seem to favor poultry even more, at 73.6 pounds per person. Disturbingly, federal poultry inspectors say that it’s not uncommon for countrywide processing plants to allow diseased or fecally contaminated birds through their line, which typically paves the way for robust maggot population booms.

7) There are more porcine residents living in South Dakota, Iowa, North Carolina, Minnesota and Nebraska than actual human beings in order to accommodate the average U.S. appetite for pork – a full 46.5 pounds per person annually. For each pound of pork produced, a pig consumes close to eight pounds of soybeans and assorted grains, making it a rather inefficient protein source.

8) In America, ethically-produced meat is the exception rather than the norm. According to Jonathan Safran Foer – the author of Eating Animals – there isn’t enough non-factory farmed chicken or pork to accommodate the population of Staten Island (491,730 people) or New York City (8,453,558 people), for that matter .

9) An absolutely astounding 1,786,859 pounds of meat was recalled from stores across America in 2010 for various reasons, the most common excuse being bacterial contamination. Ever wondered what happens to suspicious meat products once they’re pulled from grocery shelves? Upon being shipped back to the original factory where they were initially processed, the suspect hot dogs, ground beef, luncheon meat and other animal-based edibles are either burned, chucked into landfills or more commonly rendered at very high temperatures so that the protein can then be recycled into pet or livestock food as well as canned human “eats” such as chili, the filling in beef ravioli or spaghetti sauce. Yes, this is legal despite the government claiming that recalled meat is not fit for human consumption.

10) Between 2007 and 2008, laboratory tests revealed that very high levels of environmental and industrial contaminants such as heavy metals, antibiotics, dioxin and other assorted chemicals infiltrated the American beef supply. Inspectors did not, however, recall those products despite the potential for serious health issues (such as kidney failure and jaundice from copper consumption) because at least in the United States, we haven't yet distinguished between 'acceptable' or 'completely unacceptable' toxin consumption levels as they relate to our meat supply unlike so many other countries. There is no definitive data confirming that current supplies are still rocking the same potentially hazardous, chemically-laden profile, but studies suggest that it wouldn't be surprising since it's business as usual in the factory farming operations and slaughterhouse facilities across our country.

Elizah Leigh | @elizahleigh
Elizah Leigh's master's degree in education combined with her passion for the written word and deep-seated interest in environmental issues has proven to be the ideal trifecta for her present status as a green journalist. Currently commissioned to write a reference book on vegetarianism, Elizah hopes to inspire people through her words. Follow Elizah on Facebook.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/jelles