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Still wondering if its safe to eat ground beef?

This was another bad week for the American meat industry, in terms of public relations.  First, a New Hampshire resident died after consuming meat infected with E.coli bacteria.  The source was apparently the same meat that sickened Rhode Island school children in October.  This contamination event resulted in the recall of a half-million pounds of ground beef from the New York Fairbanks Farms.  It is thought that the primary risk associated with this beef is meat stored in freezers by consumers unaware of the recall.

Then South Shore Meats Co. of Brockton, Massachusetts initiated a recall after making 20 additional Rhode Island children and adults ill at a camp in Plymouth. Purchases of the meat in each case were made at large chain grocers.

The news became slightly less worrisome, but infinitely more disgusting, when the beef industry announced it would fight attempts to ban meat producers from feeding cows chicken feces.  The Consumers Union, McDonald's Corp., and others have asked the FDA to ban the practice of feeding this chicken waste to cattle. (We wonder why McDonald's doesn't just refuse to contract with suppliers who refuse to avoid the practice:  is that asking too much?)  The FDA estimates that farmers feed between one and two million pounds of chicken litter/feces to cattle, annually.

The practice isn't just disgusting, however.  It is also unsafe:  chicken "litter" includes tissue from other ruminants which had been fed to chickens--thus following the precise practice which is responsible for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or "mad cow disease." The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, which will cry for help when beef consumption falls with the next report of "mad cow" or the next resulting foreign ban on American beef, objected to such a ban because the risk is "too remote".  The Consumers Union scientists interviewed noted that the practice is also objectionable because the litter contains "disease-causing bacteria, antibiotics and foreign objects such as dead rodents, rocks, nails and glass."

A food safety expert from Cal Davis said that while the practice sounds gross, it is as old as agriculture, with "anything that falls to the ground being fair game."  On the other hand, the practice was probably safer before the onset of industrial, chemical-laced food production practices when animals were not slaughtered by a stranger on an assembly line.

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