Protect your Plate
By Paul Rutkovsky
It’s that time of the year when most of us are busy with not only daily routines, but also coping with the frenzy of the upcoming holidays. With all of the excitement and diversions of family fun and food ahead, it’s now even more important to be aware of what you’ll be feeding your family and friends. Many of our holiday meals are based around meat, such as, ham, turkey, and chicken. Recently there has been more information available about the condition of our meat producing industry because of the publicity around massive recalls. It’s very important to understand in what condition your holiday meat arrives at the local grocery. We are fortunate to have a new meat and poultry department at New Leaf Market that offers hormone-free, free-range, organic and local beef, pork, chicken and turkey. It’s a healthy new selection. Free-range is a broad category and needs far more overview and regulation. However, it’s a good start and a healthier approach than the corporate factory farming backed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The largest recall in U.S. history occurred last February 2008 at the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company of California. Over 143 million pounds of meat destined for the National School Lunch Program, the Emergency Food Assistance Program, the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations and some fast food companies luckily never left the plant. Not because the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) discovered “downer cattle”—cattle that cannot walk in the slaughterhouse—but rather because the Humane Society of America made a secret video of the practices in the plant, such as the prodding of crippled animals with forklift truck blades, the application of electric shocks, and kicking by staff. These downer animals are more prone to disease, such as, E. coli, salmonella, or BSE (mad cow disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy), because they come into greater contact with animal feces and generally have poorer immune systems.
It’s important to know that there are many farmers in this country that are very conscientious about providing safe food. For instance, Creekstone Farms in Vermont contacted the USDA to purchase BSE testing kits. They wanted to test their cattle regularly, so they could guarantee their meat was Mad Cow disease-free. Get this, it’s true, the USDA denied them access to the kits and threatened fines and even imprisonment if Creekstone attempted to test their cattle! Frequent testing by large factory farms would be more costly and require a cleaner living environment for the animals. Be aware that most of Europe has not accepted U. S. slaughtered raw chickens for over ten years, because they are dipped in chlorine before shipping overseas. If the meat industry in general were far more sanitary and precautious in the process of feeding and preparing animals, the level of disease and recalls would drop drastically. However, this would require more oversight and regulation, which would cut into profits. Is food safety a priority for the USDA?
Shop carefully for your holiday meals, and make sure you first take a look at the new meat and poultry department at New Leaf Market. It’s a healthy choice.