More Reasons Not to Eat Random Burgers

The other day, my friend was bragging about this awesomely cheap piece of meat he bought at the already bargain-basement grocery store in our neighborhood. The one that he then let sit out on his counter for four days at room temperature, “marinating” so it “got real funky.” Concerned that he might be dead next time I tried to hang out with him, I pulled a lecture-lite on him, about how "meat is probably not where you should be looking for deals." He countered that he would "cook the meat thoroughly," and next time he saw me, bragged again that he had eaten the meat, even served it to his date, and they’d both found it "awesome."

Of course we all know there are seriously huge issues with factory-farmed meat: everything from major environmental hazards to animal rights abuses to human health risks. But, especially in the face of a good deal, a lot of people turn a blind eye to these things. Particularly if they think they can just “cook the meat really well” and kill any E. coli or salmonella that might be in it.

At least in the case of hamburger, this is a fallacy. A few days ago, Grist.com’s Tom Philpott deconstructed a “stomach-turning report” from the USDA’s Office of the Inspector General that finds that E. coli and salmonella aren’t the only dangerous things in factory-farmed meat. There are also toxic antibiotic and chemical residues that can’t be killed by heat, and in some cases they're actually intensified by cooking.

The problem comes from the way the meat and milk from sick dairy cows makes its way into our food system. Sick dairy cows receive antibiotics to try to help them get well. If they don’t, however, they’re often sold to be processed as meat before the gross antibiotics have left their system.

From the report: “Some producers provide antibiotics to dairy cows in order to eliminate an infection after a calf is born. If the producer perceives that the cow is not improving, he may sell the animal to a slaughter facility so that he can recoup some of his investment in the animal before it dies.” Their meat is typically ground up into antibiotic-laced hamburger.

Additionally, a weird factoid I didn’t know: Much of the veal supply in this country is made up of the offspring of dairy cows. These animals are known as "bob veal." Many drink the sick cows' antibiotic-laced milk, and their meat is full of the residue.

According to the report, "Plants handling [spent] dairy cows and bob veal were, in 2008, responsible for over 90 percent of residue violations found."

I don't know about you, but I prefer Cajun seasoning, heck, even Old Bay, to "residues" when forming my patties.

Image source: Flickr member VirtualErn under Creative Commons