My Family Loves Hamburgers

The quality and safety of U.S. beef has made headlines over the last few months. First, the controversy surrounding Lean Finely Textured Beef (which also goes by the unfortunate name “pink slime”). Most recently, the discovery of a BSE cow in California. I want to share facts and resources to aid you in making an informed decision about consuming U.S. beef.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)
BSE, more commonly known as mad cow, causes neurological problems in animals. The California cow diagnosed with BSE, found via a routine Agriculture Department testing program, was the fourth ever discovered in the U.S. This particular cow had atypical BSE, which is rare. Here’s what you should know about BSE:

  • No BSE has ever been detected in muscle meat or milk.
  • BSE cannot be transmitted through milk.
  • BSE is not an infectious disease and does not spread from cow to cow.
  • Humans can’t get BSE from contact with cows.
  • The U.S. government has safeguards in place to detect cattle infected with BSE.

BSE found in UK cattle in the 1990’s was a form caused by cattle eating animal-based products made from BSE infected livestock. Since that time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned the adding of meat scraps to cattle feed. After America’s first case of BSE in 2003, Congress passed a law banning the sale of downer cows (animals that can’t stand on their own due to illness). These animals can’t be taken to a processing facility for beef production, they must be euthanized. All these steps were taken to ensure meat quality and safety.

Visit these sources for facts about BSE:
Information and links from the National Cattleman’s Beef Association 

Lean Finely Textured Beef
Like most Americans, this is not a product I gave much thought to until the anti “pink slime” campaign hit the airwaves. After reviewing facts from trusted sources, I learned that boneless beef trimmings are 100% edible, USDA inspected beef. This beef product has the same nutrition attributes of lean ground beef; protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins.  

Celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, lead the charge to ban so-called pink slime. He told people this product is made of “dog food full of salmonella and e-coli”. Then he illustrated the process of making this product by placing a mound of fat/bones/guts/tissue into a container and poured household ammonia (labeled with a skull and cross bones) and advised “we’re turning dog food into kid’s food”. He then asked parents, “Do you want this fed to your children?” After the show he put on, the answer was obvious. Of course not! What parent wants their child to eat a product equivalent to dog food? Unfortunately, Jamie’s illustration was filled with emotion and half-truths. This is irresponsible and false reporting. Jamie advised his audience that the only way they can get quality ground beef is to go to the butcher and watch him grind it. That’s not realistic or necessary. I did my own research and found out that lean beef trimmings are natural beef and are not harmful to me or my family.

For facts about LFTB, check out these sources:

The goal on our farm is to maintain a well cared for and healthy herd of cattle with the end result being quality milk and meat that is made into nutritious and delicious products. I believe food processors aspire to produce quality products people want to eat.

When stories about BSE, LFTB or any other food safety/quality issue receive widespread attention, it’s important to do some research yourself to get the facts. News reports are not always accurate and their stories seem to be aimed at shocking and scaring people. Groups like HSUS and PETA then jump on the opportunity to point out how bad it is to consume animal products urging people to adopt a vegan diet. Outrageous and gross stories are much more interesting and attention-grabbing than the boring facts.

There are no 100% guarantees when it comes to food safety, or anything for that matter. But it’s important to know there are many steps throughout the food production system, from farm to processor to retail that are taken each day to ensure food quality in this country. Improvements in processes and technology continue to be made in an effort to produce healthy, quality and safe food.

I’m curious to hear from you. What was your initial reaction to pink slime and BSE? Do you still consume ground beef and beef products? What are the information sources you trust regarding food quality and safety issues? What can we as farmers do to help you feel confident about the food we are producing?