As somebody whose main grudge against the meat industry concerns the things they do to animals, I nevertheless constantly find myself appalled by how the industry evades food safety regulations.
It goes like this: thanks to a pathetic lack of carcass testing at slaughterhouses, bad meat gets shipped out to consumers. Weeks go by and people start getting sick. Additional weeks are lost as expensive and complicated medical forensics are done, that ultimately trace the outbreak back to its source. Shortly thereafter, the meat company issues a bullshit “voluntary” recall, but by then it’s too late. There’s almost nothing left to recall, since nearly all the meat has by then long since been eaten.
As just one example, consider what happened with the massive 21.7 million pound Topps recall in 2007, which targeted deadly E. coli contaminated beef. Only 2.2 million pounds of meat were recovered. And many meat recalls have a far worse recovery rate than that.
The crazy thing is that the meat industry loves what I just described. It allows them to get cash for a lot of bad meat; meat that would have been identified as unsalable if only slaughterhouses were required to run adequate tests. And if the meat does end up sickening or killing people, by the time it gets traced back to the company, no legitimate recall can be done because nearly all the meat has already been eaten.
This food safety breakdown isn’t traceable to incompetence — it’s all by design, and the situation has existed for decades. It’s something that could easily be fixed given appropriate food safety regulations. But guess who’s been standing in the way?
With this depressing introduction out of the way, I’ve got some good news: I think the era of deliberate evasion of sane food safety protocols is about to end, thanks, amazingly, to the Peanut Corporation of America.
You have no doubt heard of those assholes. They were storing their peanuts in a warehouse that had gaping holes in its roof, which apparently allowed contamination with rodent and pigeon filth. The company sold its peanuts to many of America’s top food companies, and have reportedly knowingly shipped peanuts that had tested positive for salmonella.
Unlike meat, most peanut-based products have lengthy shelf lives. So a peanut recall can have real teeth, since you can legitimately expect a high recovery rate because a lot of the stuff will either still be on store shelves, or be uneaten in consumers’ kitchens. Even worse, from the food companies’ perspective, they’ve got to recall a ton of products in which the peanuts were only a minor ingredient. It all becomes outrageously expensive very quickly.
So here’s what’s now going on. Kellogg’s lost $70 million as a result of the Peanut Corporation of America recall. The company’s understandably pissed, it has political pull, and it doesn’t give a damn about the meat industry’s profits. So they’re now coming out and demanding the government to at long last put a comprehensive food safety system in place that’s overseen by a single agency. When’s the last time you ever heard of a major industry asking for more regulation?
Add to this that most of the states that voted for McCain are deep red states, with strong ties to the meat industry, and you know the Obama administration is going to be receptive to Kellogg’s requests.
None of this testing or oversight is going to be expensive or hard to do. You just make sure every batch of meat gets tested before you ship it out. But what it does mean is that we’re likely to soon enter an era in which meat companies can no longer ship large batches of contaminated meat thanks to a deliberate lack of safety tests. Think of it as the now-bankrupt Peanut Corporation of America’s going away present to the meat industry.