5 Dangerous Substances Big Ag Pumps Into Your Meat
It is no secret that in the war against meat pathogens in commercial U.S. meat production, the pathogens are winning. The logical result of the tons of antibiotics Big Meat gives livestock (not because they are sick, but to fatten them up) is clear: antibiotics that no longer work against antibiotic-resistant diseases like staph (MRSA), enterococci (VRE) and C.difficile. Antibiotic-resistant infections, once limited to hospitals and nursing homes, can now be acquired in the community, Florida public beaches and on the highway behind a poultry truck.
The EU has not accepted U.S. poultry since 1997. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Big Meat has found some novel ways to retard the growth of salmonella, E.coli and listeria on commercially grown meat, but it does not necessarily want people to know about them and these substances are conspicuously absent from labels.
1. Chlorine Baths
If you want to know the most problematic ingredients in our food supply, just look at the items the European Union boycotts, starting with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), hormone beef and chicken dipped in chlorine baths. U.S. Big Food lobbyists are pushing hard to circumvent the European bans, says MintPress News, especially "bleached chicken." They claim the “many unwarranted non-tariff trade barriers … severely limit or prohibit the export of certain U.S. agricultural products to the EU.”
That's the idea. In fact, the EU has not accepted U.S. poultry since 1997.
Why do U.S. poultry processors use chlorine? It "kills bacteria, controls slime and algae, increases product shelf life [and] eliminates costly hand-cleaning labor and materials" in addition to disinfecting "wash down" and "chilling" water. "Pinners" in the slaughter facility who remove the birds' feathers by hand wash their hands with chlorinated water to "reduce odors and bacterial count" after which the birds are sprayed to "wash all foreign material from the carcass." Meat is similarly disinfected with chlorine, says one industrial paper, especially because conveyer belts are "ideal breeding grounds for bacteria."
In a 2014 directive, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) admits the many uses of chlorine in poultry and meat production, none of which are required to be on the label under the "accepted conditions of use" (which limit the parts per million of chlorine allowed). And it gets worse. The FSIS directive also reveals that chlorine gas is used on beef "primals," giblets and "salvage parts" and for "reprocessing contaminated poultry carcasses." Bon appétit.
It has only been two years since the nation's stomach churned when it saw photos of "pink slime" oozing out of processing tubes and bound for U.S. dinner tables and the National School Lunch Program. Looking like human intestines, "lean, finely textured beef" (LFTB) was made from unwanted beef "trim" and treated with puffs of ammonia gas to retard the growth of E. coli. While the company making most of the nation's LFTB, Beef Products Inc. (BPI) shuttered three plants and laid off hundreds of employees two years ago, it is since fighting back and has brought a lawsuit against ABC news.
The suit alleges "that ABC launched a disinformation campaign that had an adverse effect on BPI's reputation, and used the term 'pink slime' to describe the company's LFTB even after it had been provided factual information about the product," reports Beef magazine. And, indeed, a quick look at FSIS's 2014 directive, whose purpose is to provide an "up-to-date list of substances that may be used in the production of meat, poultry and egg products," shows that "lean, finely textured beef" is alive and well. "Lean finely textured beef," says the FSIS, is treated with anhydrous ammonia, "chilled to 28 degrees Fahrenheit and mechanically 'stressed.'" Ground beef is also treated with anhydrous ammonia "followed with carbon dioxide treatment." Neither treatment appears on the meat label.
In November, Ag giant Cargill announced it is bringing back pink slime, with two changes—instead of ammonia, E.coli will be killed with citric acid and the meat will be identified as "Finely Textured Beef" on its label.
3. Carbon Monoxide
Eight years ago there was an uproar about Big Meat using gases like carbon monoxide to color meat an unnatural red even as it was aging on the shelf. The brown color meat assumes after a few hours is as harmless as a sliced apple turning brown, says the American Meat Institute. But like mercury in tuna or ractopamine in beef, pork and turkey, Big Food didn't blink or make any changes because it knew the contretemps would blow over—and it did. Thank you for your short memory, John Q. Public. "Modified atmosphere packaging" of meat, using assorted gases, is still a mainstay of meat production and "safe and suitable" in meat production, according to the FSIS report.
According to the FSIS directive, carbon monoxide is used as a "part of Cargill’s modified atmosphere packaging system introduced directly into the bulk or master container used for bulk transportation of fresh meat products. Meat products are subsequently repackaged in packages not containing a carbon monoxide modified atmosphere prior to retail sale." Carbon monoxide is also used to "maintain wholesomeness" in packaging Cargill's "fresh cuts of case-ready muscle meat and ground meat," says the FSIS directive.
Why is Cargill's name actually written into government directives? Maybe because it's one of the world's biggest Ag players according to Rain Forest Action. With annual revenues bigger than the GDP of 70 percent of the world’s countries, Cargill is the world's largest privately held corporation, says Rain Forest Action. It operates in more than 66 countries and is one of a "very small handful of agribusiness giants that collectively are shaping the increasingly globalized food system to their advantage."
4. Other "Safe and Suitable" Ingredients You Don't Know You're Eating
Unless you're a chemist, you may not recognize some of the other ingredients in the 2014 FSIS directive, but that doesn't mean you want to ingest them. Take "cetylpyridinium with propylene glycol for bacterial control." While cetylpyridinium is a germ-killing compound found in mouthwashes, toothpastes and nasal sprays, in meat production it is combined with propylene glycol to "treat the surface of raw poultry carcasses or parts (skin-on or skinless)." Yum.
How about, "aqueous solution of sodium octanoate, potassium octanoate or octanoic acid and either glycerin and/or propylene glycol and/or a Polysorbate surface active agent," also to kill germs?
And, does anyone want to eat "hen, cock, mature turkey, mature duck, mature goose and mature guinea" into whose raw meat and tissue has been injected protease produced from the mold Aspergillus for tenderness?
Another unrecognizable chemical is sodium tripolyphosphate, used as an "anti-coagulant for use in recovered livestock blood which is subsequently used in food products," says FSIS. According to Food & Water Watch, seafood like scallops, shrimp, hake, sole or imitation crab meat may be soaked in sodium tripolyphosphate to make it appear firmer, smoother and glossier. Sodium tripolyphosphate, "a suspected neurotoxin, as well as a registered pesticide and known air contaminant in the state of California," says Food & Water Watch, also can make seafood weigh more. To avoid sodium tripolyphosphate, buy fish labeled as “dry,” says Food & Water Watch, and avoid seafood marked as “wet.” We have not found advice on how to avoid the chemical in meat.
An under-reported way in which Big Food is seeking to kill meat pathogens, especially antibiotic-resistant pathogens, is with bacteriophages. Phages are viruses that infect and kill bacteria, essentially turning the bacteria cell into a phage production factory until the bacteria cell bursts, releasing hundreds of copies of new phages, which go on to infect and kill more bacteria. Phages, discovered in 1919, were used to treat bacterial infections but fell out of favor when antibiotics became widely available in the 1940s. Antibiotics had the advantage of attacking more than one bacterium at the same time and were not usually recognized by a patient’s immune system, so they could be used over and over in the same person to fight bacterial infection without producing any immune response.
In 2008, OmniLytics, Inc. announced FSIS approval (issuance of a no-objection letter) for a bacteriophage treatment for poultry it developed in conjunction with Elanco, the animal division of Eli Lilly, to reduce salmonella. Other, similar products soon surfaced for meat production. At least nine bacteriophage uses are listed in the FSIS 2014 directive, mostly sprayed on the hides or feathers of live animals to reduce bacterial count before slaughter. While phages are certainly "greener" than antibiotics, there are two reasons many food activists do not laud the development. Bacteriophages accommodate rather than reform the high-volume, low-ethics factory farming and do not clean up drug excesses. The other reason is phages could become yet another tool of factory farming. Cattle and other livestock operators could use phages to make animals gain weight without risking antibiotic resistance, observed a recent documentary.
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By Katy Neusteter
The Biden-Harris transition team identified COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change as its top priorities. Rivers are the through-line linking all of them. The fact is, healthy rivers can no longer be separated into the "nice-to-have" column of environmental progress. Rivers and streams provide more than 60 percent of our drinking water — and a clear path toward public health, a strong economy, a more just society and greater resilience to the impacts of the climate crisis.
Public Health<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUyNDY3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDkxMTkwNn0.pyP14Bg1WvcUvF_xUGgYVu8PS7Lu49Huzc3PXGvATi4/img.jpg?width=980" id="8e577" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1efb3445f5c445e47d5937a72343c012" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="3000" data-height="2302" />
Wild and Scenic Merced River, California. Bob Wick / BLM<p>Let's begin with COVID-19. More than <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">16 million Americans</a> have contracted the coronavirus and, tragically,<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank"> more than</a> <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">300,000 have died</a> due to the pandemic. While health officials encourage hand-washing to contain the pandemic, at least <a href="https://closethewatergap.org/" target="_blank">2 million Americans</a> are currently living without running water, indoor plumbing or wastewater treatment. Meanwhile, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank">aging water infrastructure is growing increasingly costly for utilities to maintain</a>. That cost is passed along to consumers. The upshot? <a href="https://research.msu.edu/affordable-water-in-us-reaching-a-crisis/" target="_blank">More than 13 million</a> U.S. households regularly face unaffordable water bills — and, thus, the threat of water shutoffs. Without basic access to clean water, families and entire communities are at a higher risk of <a href="https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/news/2020/08/05/488705/bridging-water-access-gap-covid-19-relief/" target="_blank">contracting</a> and spreading COVID-19.</p><p>We have a moral duty to ensure that everyone has access to clean water to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Last spring, <a href="https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/coronavirus-stimulus-bill-explained-bailouts-unemployment-benefits.html" target="_blank">Congress appropriated more than $4 trillion</a> to jumpstart the economy and bring millions of unemployed Americans back to work. Additional federal assistance — desperately needed — will present a historic opportunity to improve our crumbling infrastructure, which has been <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">grossly underfunded for decades</a>.</p><p>A report by my organization, American Rivers, suggests that <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Congress must invest at least $50 billion</a> "to address the urgent water infrastructure needs associated with COVID-19," including the rising cost of water. This initial boost would allow for the replacement and maintenance of sewers, stormwater infrastructure and water supply facilities.</p>
Economic Recovery<p>Investing in water infrastructure and healthy rivers also creates jobs. Consider, for example, that <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y9p6sgnk" target="_blank">every $1 million spent on water infrastructure in the United States generates more than 15 jobs</a> throughout the economy, according to a report by the Value of Water Campaign. Similarly, <a href="https://tinyurl.com/yyvd2ksp" target="_blank">every "$1 million invested in forest and watershed restoration contracting will generate between 15.7 and 23.8 jobs,</a> depending on the work type," states a working paper released by the Ecosystem Workforce Program, University of Oregon. Healthy rivers also spur tourism and recreation, which many communities rely on for their livelihoods. According to the findings by the Outdoor Industry Association, which have been shared in our report, "Americans participating in watersports and fishing spend over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">$174 billion</a> on gear and trip related expenses. And, the outdoor watersports and fishing economy supports over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">1.5 million jobs nationwide</a>."</p><p>After the 2008 financial crisis, Congress invested in infrastructure to put Americans back to work. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act <a href="https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-a-budget/25941-clean-water-green-infrastructure-get-major-boost" target="_blank">of 2009 (ARRA) allocated $6 billion</a> for clean water and drinking water infrastructure to decrease unemployment and boost the economy. More specifically, <a href="https://www.conservationnw.org/news-updates/us-reps-push-for-millions-of-restoration-and-resilience-jobs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an analysis of ARRA</a> "showed conservation investments generated 15 to 33 jobs per million dollars," and more than doubled the rate of return, according to a letter written in May 2020 by 79 members of Congress, seeking greater funding for restoration and resilience jobs.</p><p>Today, when considering how to create work for the <a href="https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10.7 million</a> people who are currently unemployed, Congress should review previous stimulus investments and build on their successes by embracing major investments in water infrastructure and watershed restoration.</p>
Racial Justice<p>American Rivers also recommends that Congress dedicate <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$500 billion for rivers and clean water over the next 10 years</a> — not just for the benefit of our environment and economy, but also to begin to address the United States' history of deeply entrenched racial injustice.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.epa.gov/npdes/sanitary-sewer-overflows-ssos" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">23,000-75,000 sewer overflows</a> that occur each year release up to <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/2020/05/fighting-for-rivers-means-fighting-for-justice/#:~:text=There%20are%20also%2023%2C000%20to%2075%2C000%20sanitary%20sewer,to%20do%20with%20the%20mission%20of%20American%20Rivers." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10 billion gallons of toxic sewage</a> <em>every day</em> into rivers and streams. This disproportionately impacts communities of color, because, for generations, Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color have been <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/flooding-disproportionately-harms-black-neighborhoods/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">relegated</a> to live in flood-prone areas and in neighborhoods that have been intentionally burdened with a lack of development that degrades people's health and quality of life. In some communities of color, incessant flooding due to stormwater surges or <a href="https://www.ajc.com/opinion/opinion-partnering-to-better-manage-our-water/7WQ6SEAQP5E4LGQCEYY5DO334Y/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">combined sewer overflows</a> has gone unmitigated for decades.</p><p>We have historically treated people as separate from rivers and water. We can't do that anymore. Every voice — particularly those of people most directly impacted — must have a loudspeaker and be included in decision-making at the highest levels.</p><p>Accordingly, the new administration must diligently invest in projects at the community level that will improve lives in our country's most marginalized communities. We also must go further to ensure that local leaders have a seat at the decision-making table. To this end, the Biden-Harris administration should restore <a href="https://www.epa.gov/cwa-401#:~:text=Section%20401%20Certification%20The%20Clean%20Water%20Act%20%28CWA%29,the%20United%20States.%20Learn%20more%20about%20401%20certification." target="_blank">Section 401 of the Clean Water Act</a>, which was undermined by the <a href="https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2020/tribes-and-environmental-groups-sue-trump-administration-to-preserve-clean-water-protections#:~:text=Under%20Section%20401%20of%20the%20Clean%20Water%20Act%2C,seeks%20to%20undermine%20that%20authority%20in%20several%20ways%3A" target="_blank">Trump administration's 2020 regulatory changes</a>. This provision gives states and tribes the authority to decide whether major development projects, such as hydropower and oil and gas projects, move forward.</p>
Climate Resilience<p>Of course, the menacing shadow looming over it all? Climate change. <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">More than 100 climate-related catastrophes</a> have pummeled the Earth since the pandemic was declared last spring, including the blitzkrieg of megafires, superstorms and heat waves witnessed during the summer of 2020, directly impacting the lives of more than <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">50 million people globally</a>.</p><p>Water and climate scientist Brad Udall often says, "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQhpj5G0dME" target="_blank">Climate change is water change</a>." In other words, the most obvious and dire impacts of climate change are evidenced in profound changes to our rivers and water resources. You've likely seen it where you live: Floods are more damaging and frequent. Droughts are deeper and longer. Uncertainty is destabilizing industry and lives.</p><p>By galvanizing action for healthy rivers and managing our water resources more effectively, we can insure future generations against the consequences of climate change. First, we must safeguard rivers that are still healthy and free-flowing. Second, we must protect land and property against the ravages of flooding. And finally, we must promote policies and practical solutions that take the science of climate disruption into account when planning for increased flooding, water shortage and habitat disruption.</p><p>Imagine all that rivers do for us. Most of our towns and cities have a river running through them or flowing nearby. Rivers provide clean drinking water, irrigate crops that provide our food, power our homes and businesses, provide wildlife habitat, and are the lifeblood of the places where we enjoy and explore nature, and where we play and nourish our spirits. Healthy watersheds help <a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1059952" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mitigate</a> climate change, absorbing and reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Healthy rivers and floodplains help communities adapt and build resilience in the face of climate change by improving flood protection and providing water supply and quality benefits. Rivers are the cornerstones of healthy, strong communities.</p><p>The more than <a href="https://archive.epa.gov/water/archive/web/html/index-17.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">3 million miles</a> of rivers and streams running across our country are a source of great strength and opportunity. When we invest in healthy rivers and clean water, we can improve our lives. When we invest in rivers, we create jobs and strengthen our economy. When we invest in rivers, we invest in our shared future.</p>
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