Saturday, December 15, 2012

More On Big Ag Concentration

The  Kansas City Star investigates beef processing and e coli contamination.  A little background on "Big Beef" (h/t Ritholtz):
The Star examined the largest beef packers including the big four— Tyson Foods of Arkansas, Cargill Meat Solutions of Wichita, National Beef of Kansas City and JBS USA Beef of Greeley, Colo. — as well as the network of feedlots, processing plants, animal drug companies and lobbyists who make up the behemoth known as Big Beef.
What The Star found is an increasingly concentrated industry that mass-produces beef at high speeds in mega-factories that dot the Midwest, where Kansas City serves as the “buckle” of the beef belt. It’s a factory food process churning out cheaper and some say tougher cuts of meat that can cause health problems. The Star’s other key findings:
•  Large beef plants, based on volume alone, contribute disproportionately to the incidence of meat-borne pathogens.
•  Big Beef and other processors are co-mingling ground beef from many different cattle, some from outside the United States, adding to the difficulty for health officials to track contaminated products to their source. The industry also has resisted labeling some products, including mechanically tenderized meat, to warn consumers and restaurants to cook it thoroughly.
•  Big Beef is injecting millions of dollars of growth hormones and antibiotics into cattle, partly to fatten them quickly for market. But many experts believe that years of overuse and misuse of such drugs contributes to antibiotic-resistant pathogens in humans, meaning illnesses once treated with a regimen of antibiotics are much harder to control.
•  Big Beef is using its political pull, public relations campaigns and the supportive science it sponsors to influence federal dietary guidelines and recast steaks and burgers as health foods people can eat every day. It even persuaded the American Heart Association to certify beef as “heart healthy.”
Big Beef, industry critics contend, has grown too big for Big Government to lasso.
Indeed, the U.S. beef industry is twice as concentrated as it was when President Teddy Roosevelt took on and beat the old Armour, Swift, Cudahy and Morris beef trust in the early 1900s. The big four packers today slaughter 87 percent of all heifers and steers.
I get a kick out of the media labeling all the industries "Big" something.  Big Tobacco, Big Sugar, Big Oil, Big Government, Big Beef, Big Dairy (even I used Big Ag. Writing post headlines takes work) .  It's almost as cool as calling diseases "The Cancer" or "The Sugar."

While meat contamination is a serious issue, I am greatly surprised at how well the industry manages to process massive amounts of meat, and remove the massive amounts of shit inside of and on the cattle, without contaminating more meat.  The government inspection process should be modernized, and certain industry processes reviewed and maybe limited, but overall, I am impressed that we don't have more issues than we do.

Read more here:

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