Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The USDA and Beef Products, Inc.: a marriage from Hell

It is a great privilege to be able to write about food and cooking. Especially in these exciting new days of discovering local food that is grown safely and organically. It would be wonderful to be able to focus on all the good things that are happening right now but every once in a while we have to get more serious.

The fact is that the discussion about food production in America is just beginning to get heated up, (unlike our planet which started some time back). Our food policies in the United States have resulted in factory farms, E-coli ridden fruits and vegetables, and a population that is getting larger by the minute. This leaves us with lots of cheap burgers accompanied by polluted air & water, deadly diseases, and on a fast track for a handicap sticker and an automated cart at the grocery store.

The latest revelations about food policy and the United States Department of Agriculture's role in it, will not make you want to smile. The New York Times recently reported that the company Beef Products, Inc., in an effort to increase profits, found a way to make the once-relegated-to-petfood leavings into hamburger for human consumption. These fatty leavings, unfortunately, are highly susceptible to contamination so they developed a method of injecting it with ammonia.

I know that sounds delicious but it gets better. The so noble Beef Products, Inc. then found a company and paid them to do a study to see how their new ammonia process was working. The hired hand, (shockingly, I might add), found that the process was practically infallible in it's destruction of E-coli.

It was then that the US taxpayers reasonably-paid employees at the USDA stepped up to the plate to do their job; that is to make sure the hamburger was safe for human consumption. But, apparently, this job has become pretty easy because all it involved was a reading and "approval" of BPI's own commissioned study. This must have taken at least a couple of hours.

In fact in 2007 the USDA was so confident in the BPI's ammonia process they EXEMPTED(!) them from normal food testing. With that vote of confidence by the US government the company has gone on to become the golden source for almost all the fast food giants in the country. (Do we have to name names?) Even more frightening is that the federal lunch program used 5.5 million pounds of the crap in school lunches over the last couple of years.

The upshot of all this corporate favoritism is that there have been multiple incidents of salmonella and E-coli being found in BPI products. It has been the federal school lunch program that has been doing the testing and discovering the nastiness since 2005 but the USDA never got wind of it despite the fact that they're in the same department. (How is that possible to even believe?)

Now that the disgusting hamburger has hit the proverbial fan the USDA has changed its tune. BPI has lost its exemption. The question every American needs to be asking is why they ever had one to start with?

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