The Answer to How Safe is Your Ground Beef? is VERY!

Much is a buzz over the Consumer Reports article How Safe is Your Beef? where 300 samples of retail ground were analyzed for bacteria between grass and grain fed beef highlighting best results as “sustainable” beef.

When a CBS Morning News anchor asked Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D. & Executive Director for the Center for Food Safety & Sustainability at Consumer Reports, “Shouldn’t we suspect some bacteria in any beef?”, her answer was all telling, “Absolutely”. So, what’s the beef with ground?

Buedel Fine MeatsPictured above: Three different headlines tell the same story. Kudos to CBS News (center) for taking the high road!

Getting the Facts Straight

Let’s get one thing straight: all raw meat has bacteria on it. The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) documents the following:

1. Some of that bacteria [found in the report] such as certain types of Enterococci, are not pathogens and are actually beneficial like probiotics in yogurt. Clostridium perfringens and Staphylococcus aureus are typically associated with time and temperature abuse of cooked products and generally come from contamination after food is handled. All bacteria, antibiotic resistant or not, are killed with proper cooking to the recommended temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. The bacteria identified in the Consumer Reports testing is not the bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and generic E. coli are commonly found in the environment and are not pathogenic bacteria, meaning they do not cause foodborne illness. The primary pathogens of concern in raw ground beef are Salmonella and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). These are not mentioned or reported in their findings.

3. The number one industry priority is producing the safest meat and poultry possible. This is done by focusing attention on bacteria which are most likely to make people sick, particularly E. coli O157:H7 and other Shiga toxin-producing E. coli. It is telling that Consumer Reports did not highlight finding these bacteria on products they tested as a strong indication of the overall safety of beef.

It’s also important to note Consumer Reports did not approach the industry for scientific data on the subject material nor make their data available to the industry for evaluation.

Safety in Numbers

Rangan went on to say, “The question here is, can we get it better?”

NAMI says the Consumer Reports data is staggeringly inconsistent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS) data which shows that E. coli O157:H7 occurs at a rate of less than one tenth of one percent in ground beef products. This has been reduced 93 percent since 2000.

You’d think a 90+ percentage improvement rate should be something to talk about. But the report makes no mention of that, or the highly regulated nature of the industry when it comes to food safety to begin with.

Federal compliance via on site inspectors takes place daily in meat plants to ensure food safety rules and technologies used to destroy bacteria are all in place and working. Some companies, like Buedel, also add a third layer of independent audits to their safety protocols.

Between regulating agencies and the industry itself, what kind of ‘better’ is Ms. Rangan really angling for here?

Cause Reporting

Throughout the news segment, Rangan compared each study finding between conventional beef [grain fed] and non-conventional beef [“sustainable, organic, natural and grass-fed”] to demonstrate conventional beef always had more bacteria.

NAMI also points out the use of, “Organic, Natural and Grass-fed are marketing terms that are not an accurate indicator of either sustainability or safety. All beef production models can be sustainable. The path to more sustainable beef is to ensure that every beef producer is utilizing the resources available in their part of the country to the best of their ability – whether grass, grain or other locally-produced renewable feeds like distillers grains.”

A quick visit to the Consumer Reports Facebook page reveals an ulterior agenda:

Buedel Fine MeatsFor those of you who aren’t familiar, Consumers Union (CU), is the non-profit “policy and action division” of Consumer Reports – a magazine published by Consumers Union. CU describes themselves as, “an expert, independent, nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves.

Herein lies a huge problem for readers today, when cause masquerades as media.

To be an ‘expert’ in anything you need to have a deep command of the knowledge base on all fronts. This article is filled with quotes from Consumer Reports own department heads, Grass-fed cattle farmers, and an epidemiologist from the CDC.

There were no quotes from actual food scientists (federal or corporate) nor grain fed cattle farmers, food retailers, industry media, leaders, professional groups and the like. Talking to the Department of Agriculture should have been a slam dunk at the very least.

There is also no mention of the politically based Facebook post in the online published article either. Other than this social nudge: We urge you to #BuyBetterBeef and continue the conversation with us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Vine.

Wrap Up

If you’re still not sure whether How Safe is Your Ground Beef? is a valued news or views piece, perhaps their article disclaimer will help:

Editor’s Note: Funding for this project was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts. Any views expressed are those of Consumer Reports and its policy and advocacy arm, Consumers Union and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The takeaway on this is threefold: 1) Food safety is alive and well in the beef industry. 2) Always cook your beef to 160°. 3) Beware of expert media crusading cause.

Additional Reads & Resources

https://www.meatinstitute.org/index.php?ht=d/sp/i/106823/pid/106823

http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/data-collection-and-reports/microbiology/ec/e-coli-o157h7-year-to-date/ecoli-o157-raw-beef-testing-data-ytd

http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/newsroom/news-releases-statements-transcripts

http://meatmythcrushers.com/myths/myth-grass-fed-beef-is-safer-than-corn-fed-beef.php

http://meatmythcrushers.com/myths/myth-superbugs-are-on-most-meat-and-poultry.php

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Embrace Trends for the Win-Win-Win

What could be more exciting than bringing a new brand of healthy burgers to the grocery checkout line? Nothing (in our humble book of meat feats)!  Breaking ground in new markets is always an exciting thing, especially when it helps bring notoriety to your own city.

Here’s the breaking news:

Local Meat Men Lasso East Coast
Healthy burgers on their way to Mid Atlantic & Southeast by way of Chicago

Local Meat Companies Tallgrass Beef and Buedel Fine Meats have teamed up to design and deliver a healthier burger alternative for supermarket giant Delhaize America. Over 1,000 stores across the Mid Atlantic and Southeast region will receive first shipments this week at Delhaize Food Lion, Hannaford and Sweetbay locations.

Delhaize is a global retailer with a company-wide initiative in place for sustainable business and healthy eating. They decided to partner with Tallgrass Beef to develop a burger made from, “100% grass-fed beef with no additives or imitation ingredients to deliver and educate customers on the best and most healthy options in the marketplace.”

Anytime “better choices” are brought to the marketplace it’s a good thing for consumers, and in this case, better for health, local, sustainability and the humane treatment of animals. “The new product line,” offers Tallgrass President, Bill Kurtis, “also provides Delhaize customers with the ability to show support for animals raised naturally void of added hormones and antibiotics.”

The appetite for healthy, local and sustainable foods is strong and growing. In an article published by the University of Chicago’s Environment, Agriculture & Food blog, the interest in knowing where our food comes from and the humane treatment of animals is becoming increasingly important not only to consumers but to restaurants and chefs as well.

Delhaize says they believe, “Tallgrass Burgers gives a healthy and amazing tasting product that people can feed their families while knowing without a doubt that they are buying the safest, healthiest and most nutritious beef possible!” Partnering with Tallgrass makes perfect sense for Delhaize; it also demonstrates the need for our industry to be proactive in meeting the demand for these types of food options.

The working relationship between Tallgrass, as meat provider and Buedel as purveyor and distributor on this project, exemplifies how our industry can come together in the ways we bring beef to market. When you factor in the opportunity to build Chicago as an emerging go to resource for healthy beef choices, it’s a win-win-win for the city, economy and consumers.

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From the desk of John Cecala Twitter @ Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page 

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Sustainable Agriculture: The Short Course

I recently had the opportunity to escape the daily responsibilities of adult life and go back to college for a couple of days. My business partner Darren Benson and I attended a two day short course on Sustainable Agriculture at Colorado State University sponsored by Niman Ranch.

Sustainability is a buzzword in everything from company mission statements to t-shirts these days. When we first learned about the opportunity, we thought the trip would be a fun escape from our daily grind where we could learn more about a social topic that seems to be of growing importance in the meat business.

We expected the typical business event: show up, listen to presentations, gain a few pearls of wisdom, network over dinner and have some fun. Quite the opposite was true. For industry leader Niman Ranch, educating others on topic and how it directly relates to our businesses meant presenting an intensive two day Masters level program covering sustainability from the eco-system to animal production systems. We unequivocally felt like we were back in school!

Staffing UpColorado State

Topics were approached from an academic perspective, in collaboration with Kraig Peel, PhD., Professor Animal Sciences Department at CSU and director for the Western Center for Integrated Resource Management. Dr. Peel engaged experts from the CSU staff to develop the curriculum which included a combination of classroom lectures and hands-on lab experiences. Dr. Robert G. Woodmansee, Professor at the Department of Rangeland Ecosystem Science, Senior Scientist – Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Dr. Joe Brummer, a soil and crop sciences specialist and  Dr. Jay Parsons, an agricultural production economist and risk management specialist were all part of the teaching team.

We were also given homework in preparation for the event. Resilience Thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World by Brian Walker and David Salt and numerous other pre-course white papers were assigned for reading.

Day One

The first day we learned about the scientific basis of sustainability which in essence revolves around interacting ecosystems made up of people and communities; land and water and plants and animals.

A group of parts that operate together for a common purpose or function is an ecosystem.  For example, a football team has many players each with a specific role that all must work together to win the game.

In agriculture, a farm is an ecosystem that provides a living to the farmer and her family.  In order for the farm to persist, the farmer must preserve the capability of the land he/she depends on to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  Ecosystems are all around us, from microbiology to the Earth itself.

We learned that many of the problems we have today with greenhouse gasses, global warming, extreme flooding and vaster wildfires are largely due to a lack of sustainable resilience thinking in historical ecosystems. We also learned these types of problems are all solvable. Desired sustainable ecosystems can be created through coordinated efforts between science, management and policies. In other words, getting people with diverse self-interests to talk to each other is key.

Governmental policies are often made to solve an immediate problem for society by politicians solely interested in re-election by that society. When these policies are made without regard for the larger societal landscape, undesired future problems can occur.

An example of this can be made on the water management policies in the Florida Everglades. While their policies were put in place with good intentions to solve one problem, they unexpectedly created a new problem of cattails taking over the natural flora, which ultimately harmed the wildlife and food chain several years later. Other examples include the Farm Bill and government subsidies designed to help one group of society yet negatively impacting other parts.

It will be interesting to see how the governmental polices related to Fracking will play out with regard to our needs for oil versus food. Hopefully, there will be earnest coordination between the political, governmental and social communities to develop sustainable and resilient policies with regard to fracking.

The best sustainable development practices plan ahead for seven future generations.

Day Two

The second day we went to the CSU Agricultural Research, Development and Education Center (ARDEC) to study animal production systems in the U.S. and how Risk Management strategies in agriculture are employed.

The facility provides a wealth of opportunity to conduct investigations on agricultural problems using a coordinated and integrated approach of multi-disciplinary expertise. Such problems may include the entire system of agriculture from inputs (land, water, genetic materials) through production, to value added processing.

CSU's ARDEC

On site at ARDEC

ARDEC provides faculty, staff, students, agricultural producers, processors, agribusiness representatives, natural resource managers, governmental agencies and others with the opportunity to participate in work conducted on-site with live systems. We toured live animal operations and learned about the ways family ranchers can employ the sustainable thinking concepts on their own family farms.

Our program concluded with the Risk Navigator simulator – it was like a flight simulator for farming. We broke up into groups, and each group had to run a simulated farm for five years. We made simulated production decisions and then saw the impacts of our decisions extremely quickly on the ecosystem, animals and ultimately, the bottom line.  We had to raise cattle, grow hay, corn and other crops, practice crop rotation to preserve the soil, and cow/calf operations to preserve the herd. The simulator also threw us unexpected curve balls like drought, too much rain and disease throughout our simulation period.

It was just like being in a flight simulator. Some of us crashed and burned our farms, making fast money in the beginning but ultimately losing money or going bust in the long run by consuming the natural resources to fast. Others did exceptionally well by taking advantage of sustainable concepts and risk management strategies.

I’m proud to say that my group’s simulated farm survived and made a small profit, but I think it was mostly by accident. I personally gained a new appreciation for farmers’ life work, and just how hard they have to work make a living and preserve the farm for future generations.

Final Exam

Going back to college made me realize several things. First, how much I miss it! (How great would it be to have the priorities of a twenty year old again – just going to class and parties?) I also realized how much we take our natural resources for granted in today’s world of immediate gratification, quarterly earnings and politics.

I wish everyone could have the opportunity to fully understand the scope of sustainability and see it for more than just a buzzword.

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From the desk of John Cecala Twitter @ Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

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Farm to Fork | One Part Food, Two Parts Community

Farm to Fork, (aka Farm to Table) is one of the hottest trends around. What makes this food movement so trés chic is its passionate attachment to community.

Rutgers defines Farm to Fork as a “community food system” in which:  food production, processing, distribution and consumption are integrated to enhance the environmental, economic, social and nutritional health of a particular place.

One of the success leaders in Farm to Fork integration is the Niman Ranch. A network of over 700 independent farmers and ranchers, Niman members adhere to strict guidelines and quality standards set forth by their organized leadership and followed within each of their own communities.

The Niman Experience

Earlier this month, the Niman “Annual Hog Farmer Appreciation Dinner” was hosted by Paul Willis. Willis, who started the hog farming network in 1995 with Bill Niman, holds the annual event at his Iowa farm (Niman Ranch #1) to pay homage to hog farmers, promote industry awareness and raise money for agricultural education.

To date, more than $140,000 in scholarships has been awarded by the Niman “Next Generation Scholarship Fund” to rural students wishing to study sustainable and environmental practices.

Niman started the education fund in 2006 with the help of industry partners and supporters. Chipolte Mexican Grill, Whole Foods and Buedel Fine Meats, among other food vendors and purveyors, contributed to this year’s scholarship distributions.

Chefs from around the country also participate every year by donating their time and talents to creating incredible fresh harvest and pork rich meals throughout the weekend festivities.

Commitment Personified

Now in its 14th year, the annual event has become an industry poster child for Farm to Fork learning. Having personally attended the ‘Appreciation Dinner’ last year, I’ve seen firsthand how Niman Ranch farmers embody a Farm to Fork community. Several Buedel team members made the pilgrimage to Iowa this year and came back more than overwhelmed by the experience:

The dedication of the [farm] families was amazing – they all have the same ideology. We have never seen the type of passion these people have for what they do, from generation to generation. They told us, “We know we’re doing the right thing”. When you think about it, people want to do the right thing, and to be honest, factory farmers, just don’t express these types of sentiments simply because even if they wanted to, they can’t.

Farm to Fork is sustainability – ethical treatment of the land, animals and workers, profitability and community development. It is a working partnership of agricultural and food system practices.

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From the desk of  John Cecala  Twitter @Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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