Thursday, November 18, 2010

Would You Like Ammonia With That Burger?

Hamburgers! They're the all-American meal, and America can't seem to get enough of them. And what could be simpler than a hamburger? It's just ground beef, right? Well, maybe we should put hamburgers in the same category with politics and sausage--you really don't want to know how they're made. And if you drink ammonia while you're cleaning your kitchen, it won't bother you at all. If not, keep reading.

But really, you say, my grocery store/restaurant/fast food chain wouldn't sneak something bad into my burger, would they? But certainly not my beloved public school? They wouldn't give sweet unsuspecting, innocent, little smiley-faced children bad burgers, would they? Well.... But at least the meat that is in the burger comes from cows that were out grazing in wide open fields, occasionally herded by a cowboy on a horse with a few well-trained dogs, right? They weren't walking around up to their cow knees in e coli infested dung, were they?

Let's take a look at the single greatest influence on the American beef industry: McDonald's. They're the largest purchaser of beef in US.   McDonald's, like any well run national brand, demands absolute consistency in the quality and taste of the meat served from one McDonald's to another. The demand for consistency at massive volumes has radically changed the beef industry. Of course, McDonald's specializes in cheap burgers, not premium burgers, so you can guess how that has influenced the quality of the vast majority of beef. The top 4 beef suppliers, Cargill, Tyson, Swift and National Beef, control 80 % of the beef market. Even if we don't eat at McDonalds, we are getting the meat produced by this new beef industry. Beef is now mass produced. Cattle don't roam the pastures, they're packed like sardines on feed lots the size of a postage stamp. They can hardly move, let alone roam and graze free all day. They are crowded together snout to rump, knee-high in feces.

Cows were designed to eat grass. But how do you get huge quantities of grass to our sardine-cows standing in feces? You don't. They needed a cheaper alternative. So they looked around and found something they could buy really cheap--Corn. Never mind that corn is really cheap largely thanks to government subsidies (which means it isn't really cheap, but we're all paying for it through taxes even if we don't want all that corn). One might even conclude that this government subsidy is a major contributor to the sardine-style feed lots in which are cows are raised and slaughtered.

As it turns out, corn is really bad for cows. In 1998 it was first reported that cows on grain-based diets (like corn) cause drastically elevated levels of E. coli that can live in the cow's digestive tract and more likely survive the acid shocks the of the cow's digestive tract. Basically the E.coli gets through the cows digestive system intact. If one cow has this strain of E. coli, the other cows will most likely get it too because the cow with e. coli passes it in his feces. As we already discussed, these cows are standing knee-high in feces. They are not washed before they head off to the slaughter house. So the cow is covered in E. coli-infested feces when it is slaughtered. That E. coli then gets all over the carcass, which is, of course, the meat. Comtamination of the meat is absolutely inevitable.

What's the big deal about E. coli? I am so glad you asked.

The symptoms of E. coli most often include diarrhea (usually bloody), vomiting, and severe stomach cramps which last for around 8 days. Other than that, it's a regular party. "E. coli O157:H7 was first recognized as a foodborne pathogen in 1982."  "E. coli 0157:H7 is a major health problem. It is estimated to cause infection in more than 70,000 patients a year in the United States. This diarrheal illness was first recognized when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) isolated E. coli O157:H7 from patients in two separate outbreaks in Oregon and Michigan. The illness was associated with eating hamburgers at the restaurants of one national chain. Thus, hemorrhagic colitis due to E, coli 0157:H7 is commonly referred to as HAMBURGER DISEASE."  (all caps mine)
If you found out you bought some meat that had E. coli, what would you do with it? You'd throw it away and disinfect the area, of course. So that's what your local restaurant, fast food joint, grocery store, and public school would do, too, right? Nope.

Beef Products, Inc. ("BPI"), has developed a way to use the nastiest, filthiest, feces-infested part of the cow--the outside part of the carcass. This stuff usually ends up on the slaughterhouse floor and was formerly used for dog food. Instead of disposing of this nasty stuff, BPI sweeps it up and "processes" it with ammonia to kill the high levels of E.coli and salmonella. This trash (or what used to be trash) now makes up as much as 25% of your yummy fast food burger and 10% of your child's school lunch burger. They call it "meat filler." "Beef Products buys the cheapest, least desirable beef on offer--fatty sweepings from the slaughterhouse floor, which are notoriously rife with pathogens like E. coli 0157 and antibiotic-resistant salmonella. It sends the scraps through a series of machines, grinds them into a paste, separates out the fat, and laces the substance with ammonia to kill pathogens. The result, known by some in the industry as "pink slime," is marketed widely to hamburger makers. The product has three selling points, from what I can tell: 1) it's really, really cheap; 2) unlike conventional ground beef, which routinely carries E. coli, etc, pink slime is sterilized by the addition of ammonia; and 3) it's so full of ammonia that it will kill pathogens in the ground beef it's mixed with." 

Instead of throwing that junk away and disinfecting the area (like any sane person would do if it were in their kitchen), they use household cleaning chemicals to "wash" the meat, instead of the kitchen. Really, now. Would you ever douse your food in ammonia and eat it? Unfortunately, BPI is dousing your burgers in ammonia for you.

But you've never seen "ammonia" as one of the ingredients listed on a package of hamburger, have you? That's because the beef industry was successful in lobbying the USDA in preventing the use of the word ammonia and instead only mentioning a "processing agent." The consumer should have to right to decide if they want to eat a burger that is 75% meat, 25% once dog food meat, feces, salmonella, E. coli and of course ammonia. This is a comforting fact though, the public school hamburger meat can only contain 10% of the once dog food meat, feces, salmonella, E. coli and of course ammonia in each burger. "The company says its processed beef, a mashlike substance frozen into blocks or chips, is used in a majority of the hamburger sold nationwide. But it has remained little known outside industry and government circles. Federal officials agreed to the company’s request that the ammonia be classified as a "processing agent" and not an ingredient that would be listed on labels." . Please read this entire article. Seriously, READ IT!!!!!

"USDA was so confident of the safety of the BPI product that it exempted the company from USDA bacterial testing requirements in 2007." Are you kidding me? The companies that are using ammonia to try and kill the pathogens in the dog food meat scraped up off the slaughterhouse floor, dripping in feces and the highest levels of salmonella and E. coli don't have to test their product to ensure safety for the consumers?!?!
It's not just in your fast food burger but grocery stores purchase ground beef from companies that use this "meat filler." School lunch serves this to our dear, precious children without even mentioning a word to the parent. Restaurants use this too. "With the U.S.D.A.’s stamp of approval, the company’s processed beef has become a mainstay in America’s hamburgers. McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast-food giants use it as a component in ground beef, as do grocery chains. The federal school lunch program used an estimated 5.5 million pounds of the processed beef last year alone." In fact as of a few years ago the producers of the meat filler product claim they are in 80% of all hamburgers. They also state in 5 years they predict they will be in 100% of all burgers and hamburger meat.

I have a few unanswered question about the use of ammonia for consumption. Have there been studies conducted to test the health affects of consuming ammonia? And just how does the process of cooking the meat change the chemical make up of this ammonia? What new problems does ingesting the chemically altered ammonia cause once ingested? Whatever the answer it can't be good for you!

Here is a clip from the movie Food Inc. that is at a processing plant of the ammonia meat filler.

Ammonia cleanses the meat we eat. Um, No, I don't want ammonia with my burger.  I doubt I'll ever be able to eat a fast food burger again.

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