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The Green Life: What's in the Beef?

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October 06, 2009

What's in the Beef?

Hamburger.pattiesOn Sunday, the New York Times ran a well-reported article about the beef industry’s lax inspection procedures and a dance instructor named Stephanie Smith who was left paralyzed after eating a hamburger contaminated with a  particularly virulent strain of E. coli. (The article comes just a few weeks after the paper's strong piece on water pollution; hats off to the Times for producing quality investigative journalism about environmental health.)

As the article states, "Neither the system meant to make the meat safe, nor the meat itself, is what consumers have been led to believe." The meat in Smith's contaminated patty came from several slaughterhouses across the country and from South America; there is no federal requirement for meat grinders to test their ingredients for E. coli. The reporter found that many big slaughterhouses won't send their product to grinders who do test, for fear of recalls.

If this makes you nervous about the health risks of our industrial agriculture system, you’re not alone. There's a few things you can do to protect yourself:

If you're going to eat beef, opt for locally raised, grass-fed beef from smaller farms. Instead of eating a hamburger made of perhaps hundreds of cows from all over the hemisphere, at least you'll know from whence your dinner came.

The truly failsafe way to prevent yourself from getting sick from contaminated beef is to simply not eat it. Or better yet, go vegetarian. You’ll be taking a stand against the staggering amount of pollution caused by industrial meat production while reducing your carbon footprint significantly. No animals will have to die, either.

-- Année Tousseau

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