Watch the meat you eat

Watch the meat you eat

MARCH 6, 2008

Colorado Springs Independent

What does it take to scare America anymore? What does it take for everyday people, regardless of their politics, to unite in outrage? What does it take for the nation to demand the whole truth about an ominous, very real threat to our food supply?
Apparently, 143 million pounds of recalled beef isn’t enough.

Yes, 143 million, which computes to a plump hamburger for every living man, woman and child in the United States. All that meat considered not worthy for human consumption, not because of a mistake but simply because somebody ratted out Westland/Hallmark, a monster of the nation’s meat-packing industry.

It was serious news — for a week or so. But apparently, learning the all-too-typical practices of big companies isn’t enough. Not even the revelation that untold numbers of sick, weakened and crippled cattle — too frail to stand — have been shocked or pitch-forked to slaughter and processing.

Apparently, it didn’t matter that a lot of the recalled beef already has been eaten by America’s children, perhaps here in Colorado Springs. That’s because school districts everywhere buy “USDA surplus” beef. The assumption is that if the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s stamp is on it, in any form, the meat’s safe.

Never mind that your little Emily or Matthew might be eating a burger that includes ground-up cow brains, organs and even teeth.

What will it take? Hundreds of children dropping dead? Do we have to endure a national disaster?

Mike Callicrate says he’s sickened by the latest news, but not surprised.

“It’s getting so bad, it’s unbelievable,” says Callicrate, owner of the local Ranch Foods Direct, longtime independent cattle producer and activist, and representative of those who understand the value of controlling all aspects of meat processing. “It’s amazing this wasn’t uncovered sooner, except nobody would believe it. This absolutely is the tip of the iceberg.”

Perhaps the biggest misconception, Callicrate says, is that the USDA really does inspect that beef you buy at the supermarket or eat at fast-food places.

“They’re not inspecting meat,” Callicrate says. “There might be inspectors at the big plants, but they’ve turned into paper-shufflers. If USDA inspectors can discover that an employee signed a form instead of initialing it, they’ll write it up. But if somebody picks up meat that’s fallen on the dirty floor and they put it into the grinder, the inspectors aren’t even in the room to see it.

“Companies are buying rejected, tainted meats. That ground-beef patty might be full of brain and spinal tissue from a cow that couldn’t walk, but it goes through. And the kids at school, or folks in the hospital or old-folks homes will get to eat it.”

Callicrate also is alarmed that one mega-company like Westland/Hallmark, the most recent culprit, can be exposed and the result is a recall of meat produced over a period of two years, affecting much of the country.

Lots of schools everywhere — some in this area, Callicrate says — get meat from Westland/Hallmark. Mammoth suppliers can offer low prices (Callicrate prefers the term “predatory pricing”) to schools and restaurants, and provide vegetables and produce as well. Those can be suspect, too, as in the colossal spinach recall of 2006 when one company’s tainted spinach caused illnesses in 26 states.

What can we do? If you have kids in school, Callicrate says, demand that your district be more accountable for the food it serves. Better yet, make your children’s lunches to take to school. And be more wary of what you buy.

It all comes down to trust. If you can’t be sure how your meat was handled, from the pasture to your plate, you should be concerned and demand the truth.

“We’re either going to have an industrialized food system in America,” Callicrate says, “or we’ll kick their ass [the USDA/Big Food partnership], make sure everyone buys local and get back to what really makes sense.”

There is some hope. Consumers are starting to come around, Callicrate says, buying more from farmers’ markets and local suppliers. They’re putting pressure on school districts, or packing lunches for their kids.

Yes, you have to be willing to pay more for meat and other food. But if you really care about your health, and what you eat, that’s your only choice.


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