Without country of origin labeling, the meat you buy may be from a nation where meat packers are under indictment. Action alert!
Recently, federal authorities in Brazil revealed an investigation into widespread corruption in the country’s meat packing industry involving payments to government officials to forego safety inspections and cover up health violations.
The scandal involves some of the country’s largest meat-packers—including the world’s largest red meat producer—that have allegedly been selling rotten meat and poultry for years. Acid and carcinogenic chemicals were reportedly used to make the meat look fresh, while cardboard, potato, and water was mixed in with poultry products to increase profits.
The investigation has already resulted in the suspension of thirty-three government officials and the indictment of sixty-three individuals.
The scandal has prompted some lawmakers to call for blocking shipments of Brazilian meat into the US. However, many are worried that banning Brazilian meat would open the US up to trade retaliation.
With potentially rotten Brazilian beef still flowing into our grocery stores, the only hope consumers have is information. Sadly, we now cannot know whether we are purchasing beef that is unsafe to feed to our family.
Before it was repealed, country of origin labeling (COOL) for beef let consumers know where the meat they were buying came from—information that would be especially useful right now. Despite its usefulness, Congress repealed COOL for beef in December 2015 after the World Trade Organization ruled that labeling requirements unfairly discriminated against Canadian and Mexican meat, entitling those countries to hit US goods with $1 billion in tariffs.
This means, in most cases, you won’t know whether the steak you’re buying came from American ranches or from Brazil’s tainted meatpacking plants!
To be clear, we are not touting our industrialized food system as a paragon of safety. Consider the following:
- The use of ractopamine has been banned or restricted in 160 countries because of safety concerns, but US pork producers feed this drug to about 80% of American pigs to boost growth rates.
- The European Union and Russia have banned the use of chlorine baths as an anti-microbial treatment for poultry, which is still commonly used in the US.
- American beef products are commonly treated with growth hormones to make the animals grow faster, which are also banned in Europe.
- Potassium bromate, a possible carcinogen, is used in American bread products to make bread whiter and fluffier. It is banned in the EU and other countries.
- Brominated vegetable oil is found in some sugary, citrus-flavored soft drinks. Drinking a lot of this stuff has been known to cause skin and nerve problems. It has been banned in the EU and Japan, but not in the US.
- Artificial dyes like yellow #6 and red #40 break down into carcinogenic compounds when eaten. Occupational exposure to these chemicals is thought to cause around 25% of bladder cancers. For these reasons these chemicals are banned in the EU but—you guessed it—not in the US.
- American milk producers commonly add recombinant bovine growth hormone (rGBH) to dairy cows to increase milk production—a practice that has been banned in the EU, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. RGBH is a genetically engineered artificial hormone made by Monsanto. The individual most associated with rGBH has moved back and forth between high level jobs at the FDA and Monsanto over the years.
Consumers should have access to health and safety information about their food so they can make informed choices about what to feed their families. Congress should reinstate COOL and not allow the WTO eliminate laws made in the public interest.
Action alert! Write to Congress and tell your representatives that you want COOL for beef reinstated. Please send your message immediately.