Tuesday Roundup: Big Beef

Kansas City Star's beef expose • Vilsack on relevancy of rural America • Why sheep raisers receive less and less • 7 foods you shouldn't eat

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The Kansas City Star has published a massive study of the meat industry. It’s called “Beef’s Raw Edges” and it’s written by Mike McGraw.

There’s no way to summarize properly all the reporting that McGraw did over the last year. The full series can be found here

The articles are divided into three groups. The first group of stories is about how the meat processing industry’s techniques are increasing the risk of spreading E. coil. Part 2 tells us that the overuse of antibiotics in the beef industry is leading to resistant bacteria in humans. And in the third part of the series, McGraw tells us how the beef industry is trying to influence dietary guidelines in order to help bolster the demand for its product.

In the last day of the series, McGraw describes the lobbying process the meat processing industry is using to change dietary guidelines so that red meat can become a bigger part of a recommended diet. He writes that “Big Beef” is:

•  Attempting to influence the next rewrite of the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines in 2015. Big Beef wants them to include new research the industry paid for that promotes a beef diet intended to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. It also has paid for advertising and promotions, for example, getting lean cuts certified by the American Heart Association as “heart-healthy” food.

•  Spending even more money influencing the nation’s dietitians, treating them to junkets and dinners. The industry arranges continuing education programs for nutritionists immediately after beef-sponsored research is published in scientific journals.

•  Stifling criticism of food or its production methods through what are called “veggie libel” laws now in effect in 13 states. The laws were promoted by the American Feed Industry Association, whose members include large beef packers and animal pharmaceutical firms.

In an effort to maintain market share, the beef industry has gone on the nutritional offensive. Its own marketing research shows that concerns about nutrition, and fat in particular, remain a major disincentive to consumers from buying beef as voraciously as they did a generation ago.

The average American maxed out on beef in 1976, eating a record 67.9 pounds that year. Since then, beef consumption in the United States has fallen by about a third. Chicken surpassed beef as the nation’s most popular meat nearly a decade ago.

“Everybody is competing for the same calories. The only way you can sell your product is by giving it a health aura,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University and a regular critic of the food industry.

There’s much more in this fine series. Congratulations to Mike McGraw and the KC Star. 

Broadband Maps — The Federal Communications Commission is asking for help in correcting a map showing where broadband is and isn’t. You can go here to see the map and get details. 

The FCC uses the map to determine which projects to fund. They know the map is flawed and need help to make sure it’s accurate.

Tom Vilsack on Rural Relevancy — USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack says that rural America is “becoming less and less relevant.” And it worries him.

“It’s time for us to have an adult conversation with folks in rural America,” Vilsack said in a speech at a forum sponsored by the Farm Journal. “It’s time for a different thought process here, in my view.”

“Why is it that we don’t have a farm bill?” said Vilsack. “It isn’t just the differences of policy. It’s the fact that rural America with a shrinking population is becoming less and less relevant to the politics of this country, and we had better recognize that and we better begin to reverse it.”

“We need a proactive message, not a reactive message,” Vilsack said. “How are you going to encourage young people to want to be involved in rural America or farming if you don’t have a proactive message? Because you are competing against the world now.”

7 Foods You Should Never Eat — Fox News gives a list of seven foods that should never pass your lips

For instance, microwave popcorn. (Chemicals in the lining of the bag are in a class of compounds that may be linked to infertility.) And corn-fed beef. (It’s less nutritious than grass-fed beef.) 

Keystone Halted in Texas — A Texas judge has ordered TransCanada to temporarily halt wok on some private property in Texas, where it is building a pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast. A Texas property owner is claiming the company lied when it told Texas landowners the pipeline would carry crude oil instead of the tar sands oil. 

TransCanada is awaiting a State Department permit to allow the Keystone XL pipeline to cross the U.S.-Canada border. Susan Rice, President Obama’s apparent choice for Secretary of State, owns up to $600,000 in TransCanada stock.

More Calories in School Lunches — After protests from students who say they aren’t getting enough to eat from school lunches, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has changed its rules governing these meals. 

The USDA said it would allow more “flexibility” in setting calorie limits.

Sheep and Prices — The New York Times picks up on a story that has been bubbling for some time — the high prices charged in groceries for lamb and the low prices paid for lamb at the farm gate. 

The Times’ Jack Healy says weather and “economics” take “big shares of the blame” for the fact that sheep raisers aren’t receiving a fair price for their animals. Then he adds:

But some ranchers and officials in Washington believe that the deck was stacked against the sheep ranchers by the small number of powerful feedlots that buy lambs, slaughter them and sell them to grocery stores and restaurants. Even as prices farmers received fell to 85 cents a pound, consumers at supermarkets were paying $7 or more a pound for the same meat.

As cows, pigs, sheep and other animals make their doomed way from the range to kitchen tables, many of them end up in a matrix of feedlots, slaughterhouses and meatpacking facilities where a few companies control a vast share of the market. The top four companies control about 65 percent of the market for lamb and as much as 85 percent of the market for cows.

That kind of concentration makes it easier for a few powerful companies to manipulate prices to their advantage, said Patrick Woodall, the research director at Food and Water Watch, an environmental advocacy group.

 

 

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