Recently the Kansas City Star ran a series of articles critical of the beef industry. I must admit that when I first saw the news of the series I immediately felt my blood pressure rise. I am very proud of the job I and other ranchers do of bringing a safe, nutritious protein source to consumers. How dare a newspaper question what we do. Then I read the article.
The author focused on a tenderizing process frequently used in steaks prepared for the food service industry. This process uses small needles to inject tenderizer into steaks. This process does present a point at which e-coli can enter the product. The article went on to recount stories by victims of e-coli illnesses and the stories were quite poignant.
I had always taken the stance that proper sanitation and preparation would eliminate most if not all food borne illness. I still believe that sanitation and preparation are key elements and I know beef is safe to eat. However, the article did give me a moment’s pause and caused me to take a longer look at the beef we send to the consumer’s table.
I have defended our agriculture system as the safest, most reliable in the world, and of that I still have no doubt. I can only speak for myself, but the safety of the consumer is a great concern of mine. I would never, ever do anything to jeopardize the safety of the product I produce. I know the vast majority of my fellow producers feel the same way. I also know many people in the meat processing business and I can attest that they hold food safety in the highest regard also.
I also believe that we have without a doubt the best oversight and inspection service in the entire world. The USDA and their dedicated employees do their absolute best to monitor and insure the safety of the food we all depend on. I have been to the plants and watched the inspectors do their jobs and they are the best.
So after all of that , do I have any doubts about the safety of the beef I produce. Absolutely not, the illnesses documented in the article are terrible and unfortunate and in many cases may be able to be prevented. If it was one of my family members or me, I would be looking for answers also. I am also just as sure as I was before I read the article that our food supply is still the safest possible.
Anything we do involves some risk. Waking up, involves a great amount of risk each morning and the food we all need does come with a certain amount of risk. Rest assured that those of us who produce, process and prepare the food you eat do everything in our power to reduce that risk. As I said earlier, I also believe you, the consumer, can reduce your risk with proper sanitation and preparation.
While the risk of food borne illness will always be there, I am sure it is lower in our food supply than anywhere else in the world. However, I also think that every business has room for improvement and ours is no different. We must continue to work with the processors, wholesalers, retailers and food service segments of our industry to continually fine tune our processes. As good as we are, we can always be better and that is what we should strive for.
So what should the consumer, which is every one of us, take away from this. We are so blessed to live in a country where food safety is so engrained in every step of the food supply chain. We are also fortunate to live in a society where food safety is such a priority, most of the world is more concerned with the availability and safety is a luxury.
Let me conclude by saying that maybe, as a producer, I should not automatically be on the defensive when the media leads us in a discussion of food safety. While we have the world’s safest most wholesome food supply, improvements must constantly be made and complete safety should be the ultimate goal. I also promise that I will continue to eat meat without a second thought. In the end, I will always be a confident food consumer and a proud producer of that food.