22 October 2010

have you heard?

Canada's meat industry is not keeping Canadians safe from food-bourne illnesses. We like to assume Canada cares more about keeping its citizens safe from preventable illness and death than other countries - countries that don't have universal health care and are geographically located to the south of us, for example. However, it is a completely unfounded assumption.

Yesterday, the Georgia Straight ran an article titled "The meat of the matter" by Alex Roslin. Reading it, I was reminded how frustratingly inadequate our meat system is. For years, our law-makers have been stripping the meat industry of its integrity - leaving it an infected, gutted mess.

In fact, "[e]ven our neighbours are taking notice. Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture told Canada it wasn't meeting U.S. standards for inspecting processed meat destined for export south of the border. It demanded that Canadian meat inspectors check up on exporting plants once every 12 hours, as U.S. standards require. Canada increased the level of checks to that standard. Meanwhile, plants making processed meat for Canadians are inspected at the far more leisurely pace of only once a week." That's right, the U.S. won't even touch what Canadians are using to make their sandwiches.

Roslin details how, "[i]n the 1980s, beef was usually butchered by hand in a large number of small meat-processing plants spread across the country. Each one had a federal meat inspector assigned to oversee it full-time. Mechanization of slaughterhouse operations and processing started to transform the industry in the late 1980s and 1990s. Machines run by low-wage operators started to replace trained butchers. The small plants were consolidated into fewer, large[r] operations - some on a massive scale."

This sort of mega-meat production line is a big problem. "When there was a bacteria outbreak at one of the smaller plants, it was usually pretty limited in scope. Now if you do half a day's run [of tainted product] out of one of these big plants, you've contaminated half the continent."

Did you know that "[s]tarting in 2005, the federal government took the deregulation a step further by quietly implementing a new food-safety system that shifted much of the burden of policing to the meat industry. Instead of shutting down a dirty facility, inspectors were instructed to issue a "corrective action request". A meat processor would now usually have 14 days to respond with an explanation of how it would deal with the issue - and would, in most cases, have another 60 days to implement changes."

And if you want to hear about the meat glue that is being used to create meat chunks from scraps that are sold as steaks, pick up the article. Pages 4-5 in the Healthy Living section.

This is why I won't touch factory-farmed meat. Or even mass-produced meat labelled as "organic" or "natural". What good are labels if there is no inspection backbone to support it? You need to know where your meat is coming from in a real way.

Quotations from "Healthy Living" in The Georgia Straight. October 21-28, 2010, pages 4-5. Any emphasis is my own.

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