It's 2005... Do You Know Where Your Beef Comes From?

(By Joyce H. Newman) The recent decision to postpone the reopening of the Canadian border to beef imports is a very good decision for consumers and the environment.

The recent decision to postpone the reopening of the Canadian border to beef imports is a very good decision for consumers and the environment. Early in January 2005, just when the U.S. Agriculture Department said it was planning to lift its ban on sales of young Canadian cattle in the U.S., two new confirmed cases of cattle afflicted with "mad cow" disease were found in Alberta, Canada. Even worse, the second cow contracted the disease after new feed regulations designed to prevent its spread were put in place in 1997.

To protect our meat supply, so much more needs to be done that it makes you wonder if it is really safe to eat beef here in the U.S. According to food safety advocates at Consumers Union, less than one percent of the 35 million cattle slaughtered every year are tested for safety and the U.S. Agriculture Department is not using the most sensitive and up-to-date testing methods that are used in Europe and Japan, known as the "Western blot" test.

Moreover, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still allows cattle remains to be fed to other animals, such as pigs and chickens, whose remains can be fed back to cows. Food safety advocates say that even the remains of an animal known to carry a form of mad cow disease could go into rendered feed under current FDA rules.

The danger: if blood and scraps harbor infectious material, or if contaminated feed is accidentally mixed with cattle feed, cattle could sicken and pass along disease. So it is more important than ever to know where your beef is coming from and to check how it was produced. To do this consumers need much better information on the label than they are now getting. Consumers today know where their hats or their hand lotion comes from, but we still don't know where our meat is coming from. Congress has delayed implementation of "country of origin" labeling for meat until 2006, and who knows what may happen before then.

The safest choice at this time is to eat beef from cows that were not given conventional feed, thereby avoiding the possibility of contamination by animal parts. That means shopping for beef labeled either "Certified Organic" or "Biodynamic." Consumers may have to shop around a lot to find beef with either of these labels, say the experts. But the labels mean that an animal has eaten only grass or organic feed, which cannot contain animal matter. Even more important is the fact that the certified meat actually can be tracked -- every stage of organic production is recorded so that the meat is traceable. Some reliable suppliers of beef that is "Biodynamic" or "Certified Organic" are listed on The Green Guide website:


An award-winning broadcast journalist and new media executive whose credits include a wide range of environmental and "green consumer" websites and programs, Joyce H. Newman is a Trustee of the Green Guide Institute, a nonprofit, independent publisher of consumer health and safety advice, product reviews, and shopping tips. She currently heads Newman Productions, specializing in strategic communications for a variety of national nonprofit organizations.

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Source: An ENN Commentary