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Slaughterhouses and processing plants used to be small operations, scattered around the country. But today, a few gigantic, combinational slaughterhouse/packing plants (actually thirteen just now) are processing and shipping out most of the meat in America. The killing and packing of animals is done so fast, that serious contamination frequently results.


The pathogens from infected cattle are spread in feedlots, at slaughterhouses, and in grocery store hamburger grinders.

The two slaughterhouse tasks most likely to contaminate meat are the removal of an animal’s hide and the removal of its digestive system.

The hides are pulled off by machine. If it has not first been adequately cleaned, chunks of dirt and manure may fall from it onto the meat. Stomachs and intestines are still pulled out of cattle by hand. But if the job is not done slowly and carefully, the contents of the digestive system may spill all over.

The problem is the increased speed of today’s production lines. A single worker at a "gut table" may eviscerate 60 cattle an hour. Performing the job properly takes a fair amount of skill. One former "gutter" said it took him six months to learn how to pull out the stomach and tie off the intestines without spilling everything onto the meat. At a slaughterhouse Shlosser visited in Lexington, Nebraska, the hourly spillage rate at the gut table was as high as 20%. The contents were splattering out of one in every five carcasses.

Then there are the knives. They are supposed to be disinfected every five minutes, but this may not be done. Workers know it is important to maintain production quotas, if they want to keep their jobs. If the knives touch manure and are then used to cut into the carcass, bacteria and viruses are transmitted—not to speak of the ever-present E. coli bacteria, billions of which are in every digestive tract.

Slaughterhouse workers are often illiterate and always overworked. They sometimes forget that the meat will be eaten. Meat is dropped on the dirty floor and then put back on the conveyer belt. They cook bite-sized pieces of meat in their sterilizers (which are supposed to sterilize their knives), which contaminates the sterilizers (Eric Shlosser, Fast Food Nation, p. 203).

The most dangerous of all E. coli bacteria in the intestines is E. coli 0157:H7. Yet a recent USDA study found that, during the winter months, about 1% of the cattle at feedlots carry E. coli 0157:H7 in their gut. The proportion rises to as much as 50% during the summer! Even assuming only a 1% infection rate, that means three or four cattle with that microbe are eviscerated at a large slaughterhouse every hour. (The study was conducted by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and cited in "Study Urges Pre-Processed Beef Test for E. coli," Health Letter on the CDC, March 13, 2000.)

Of course, the likelihood that those infected animals will be eaten by many people is greatly increased when the meat is processed into ground beef!

Years ago, burger meat was made in local butcher shops from leftover meat scraps. Cattle were slaughtered locally. But today, large slaughterhouses and grinders dominate the nationwide production of ground beef.

A modern processing plant (the new name for "slaughterhouse") can produce 800,000 pounds of ham- or beefburger a day. It is then shipped throughout the nation, which can be a somewhat lengthy process. A single animal infected with E. coli 0157:H7 can contaminate 32,000 pounds of that ground beef (cited in Armstrong, et al., "Food-borne Pathogens").

Other statistics add to the frightening picture: The animals used to make about one-quarter of the nation’s ground beef are worn-out dairy cattle. And those are the animals most likely to be diseased and riddled with antibiotic residues ("Relative Ground Beef Contribution to the United States Beef Supply: Final Report," American Meat Institute Foundation, in cooperation with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, May 1996).

The stresses of industrial milk production make dairy cows even more unhealthy than cattle in a large feedlot. Some of the fast-food burger restaurants rely heavily on old cows for their burgers, since they cost less, yield lower fat meat, and enable the chain to boast that all its beef is raised in the United States. A single fast-food burger now contains meat from dozens or even hundreds of different cattle (cited in Armstrong, et al.,"Food-borne Pathogens").

Upton Sinclair’s book (The Jungle, mentioned at the beginning of this present book), exposing the meatpacking industry nearly a hundred years ago, led to efforts by the U.S. Government to impose regulations which were bitterly opposed by the meat industry. That warfare has continued down to the present time.

It was during the 1980s, that the new methods of keeping the animals in filthy feedlots and butchering them in gigantic mass-production slaughterhouses were fully developed. As the risks of widespread contamination increased, because of those new techniques, the meatpacking industry blocked the use of microbial testing in the federal meat inspection program. A panel appointed by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) warned, in 1985, that the nation’s meat inspection program was hopelessly outdated; for it still relied on only what the federal inspectors could see and smell, as the carcasses rushed by them. The report stated that dangerous pathogens could not be detected in this manner (NAS, Meat and Poultry Inspection: The Scientific Basis of the Nation’s Program, 1985). A second report, issued three years later by another NAS panel, warned that the public health structure of the United States was not prepared to detect or cope with newly emerging pathogens which might occur (NAS, The Future of Public Health, 1988).

In spite of those reports, the government cut spending for slaughterhouse inspections and for all U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversight.

Two months after the second NAS panel presented its report, the USDA launched its Streamlined Inspection System for Cattle (SIS-C). Under this new arrangement, the meatpacking houses assigned their own employees to do the inspections at five pilot plants. When USDA inspectors did occasionally visit them, company officials were frequently tipped off ahead of time about the time of their arrival. Not having to bother with federal inspectors on a daily (or even weekly) basis, packinghouse owners speeded up their slaughtering lines at those five plants. This produced more beef at lower costs, but it was filthier than before ("Report Calls for Streamlining Federal Meat Inspections," Associated Press, September 17, 1990).

A 1992 USDA study decided that the new SIS-C inspection program was functioning just fine, because the five plants "were no dirtier" than the others,—so it extended its "streamlined inspection system" to all the others ("Do Streamlined Beef Inspections Work?" Los Angeles Times, June 18, 1992).

But the federal inspectors knew the truth of what was happening; and interviews of some revealed that, under the new system, the meat was in worse condition than before. At SIS-C slaughterhouses, visibly diseased animals (cattle infected with measles and tapeworms, covered with abscesses) were being slaughtered. Poorly trained company inspectors were allowing the shipment of beef contaminated with fecal material, hair, insects, metal shavings, urine, and vomit.

On April 30, 1992, the ABC News show, PrimeTime Live, broadcast an investigation of the new system for cattle. It had obtained corporate documents showing that some USDA visits were known in advance. Also shown were video shots of meat covered in feces being processed at a processing plant in Greeley, Colorado. (Also see "Unhappy Meals: Colorado Meat Plant Blasted for Disease and Filth," States New Service, June 11, 1992; "USDA is Sued: Where’s the Beef Report? Public Interest Group Charges System Lets Dirtier, More Dangerous Meat Reach Consumers," Washington Post, July 10, 1990.)

You might find it of interest that, under USDA regulations, whenever a meatpacking company voluntarily decides to pull contaminated meat from the market, it is under no legal obligation to inform the public—or even state officials—that a recall is taking place! In this way, the public does not learn what has happened, but people who are sickened by E. coli 0157:H7 are likely to be misdiagnosed and possibly die as a result. All because state health authorities have not alerted hospitals about the problem.

As an added protection for the meatpackers, the USDA now informs the public about every Class I (non-voluntary) recall that it initiates, but it does not reveal exactly where the contaminated meat is being sold (unless it is being distributed under a brand name at a retail store). This protects the large fast-food restaurant chains and franchises. But you will never hear their names mentioned in a recall. Both the USDA and the meatpackers argue that details about where a company has distributed its meat must not be revealed in order to protect the firm’s "trade secrets." But state health officials have attacked the USDA policy, arguing that it makes outbreaks much more difficult to trace and puts victims of food poisoning at much greater risk. So eat your burgers at your own risk. You will receive no warnings ("Stealthy Meat Recalls Leave Consumers in Dark," Denver Post, May 13, 1999; "Recalls Present Tough Decision for Food Companies," Food Chemical News, May 4, 1998; "Backlash: Recalls," Food Processing, August 1, 1999; "Recall of Meat and Poultry Products," FSIS Directive, January 19, 2000).

In February 1999, when one of the packers recalled 10,000 pounds of ground beef laced with small pieces of glass, the company would disclose only that the meat had been shipped to stores in Florida, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. Neither the processing plant nor the USDA would provide the names of those stores. "It’s very frustrating," an Indiana health official told a reporter, explaining why the beef containing broken glass could not easily be removed from the supermarket shelves. "If they don’t give [the information] to us, there’s not much we can do" (quoted in Allison Young and Jeff Taylor, "Stealthy Meat Recalls Leave Consumers in Dark," Denver Post, May 13, 1999).

To date, Congress has turned down bills (four of them between 1996 and 1999) which would empower the USDA to fine meatpackers when they sent out bad meat. Yet the government regularly uses fines as a means for regulatory enforcement in the airline, automobile, mining, steel, and toy industries. "We can fine circuses for mistreating elephants," Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman complained in 1997, "but we can’t fine companies that violate food-safety standards" (quoted in Carol Smith, "[Need for] Overhaul in Meat Inspection No Small Potatoes, Official says," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 29, 1998).

RADIATION—In order to solve the problem in another way, the meatpacking industry and the USDA have been advocating the irradiation of meat by radiation from nuclear waste! ("Titan to Put Whammy on Food Bacteria," in San Diego Union-Tribune, May 18, 1999).

Most irradiating facilities have concrete walls that are six feet thick, employing cobalt 60 or cesium 137 (a waste product from nuclear weapons plants and nuclear power plants), to create highly charged radioactive beams. The Titan Corporation is a leader in developing equipment for this purpose ("Beef Industry Recommends Irradiation Rule Includes Ready-to-Eat Meats," Food Labeling News, June 23, 1999).

So far, widespread introduction of the process has been impeded by the fact that most consumers do not want to eat food exposed to radiation. The only way to do justice by the situation is to use labels, warning the consumer that the product is irradiated. Let the people decide what kind of meat they want ("Food Irradiation Acceleration," Packaging Digest, July 1, 1999; "Pasteurized Foods in Your Future?" Food Management, October 1999).

An ongoing warfare by the meat and packing industries has been carried on for years against regulation of their activities or public disclosure of the meat crisis. Here is one concluding incident:

A ground beef plant in Dallas, Texas, failed a series of USDA tests for Salmonella in the summer and fall of 1999. As much as 47% of their ground beef contained Salmonella. This was five times higher than what USDA regulations allowed ("Plant that Failed Salmonella Tests Challenges Screening System," Dallas Morning News, December 10, 1999).

Every year in the U.S., food tainted with Salmonella causes about 1.4 million illnesses and 500 deaths; and high levels of Salmonella in ground beef indicate high levels of fecal contamination. So one would expect this discovery to be regarded as a serious matter (Meade, et al., "Food-Related Illness and Death").

Despite the test results, the USDA continued to purchase thousands of tons of meat from that firm for distribution to schools. Indeed, it was one of the nation’s largest suppliers to the school meals program, annually providing as much as 45% of all the ground beef eaten in American schools (Chicago Tribune, December 14, 1999).

On November 30, 1999, the USDA finally suspended purchases. The next day, with the full backing of the National Meat Association, the firm sued the USDA in federal court, claiming that Salmonella was a natural organism, not an adulterant! This had been the first plant shutdown ever attempted by the USDA. It lasted one day, for a federal judge ordered a reversal ("Judge Rebuffs USDA; Agency Tried to Close Dallas Plant," Dallas Morning News, May 26, 2000). Within a short time, the USDA was once again allowing the company to supply ground beef to the nation’s schools ("USDA Purchased Meat from Texas Plant after Contamination Cited," Atlanta Journal, December 4, 1999).


"Food-borne diseases" is the technical name for diseases people get from eating animals, which are caused (not the diseases the animals themselves have) from bacteria on small bits of contamination (primarily manure) which were on the animal when it left the processing plant on the way to the consumer.

Every year in America, about 200,000 people are sickened by some type of food-borne disease. Of that number, 900 are hospitalized and 14 die (Meade, et al., "Food-Related Illness and Death"). The total number in a year’s time in the United States is 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than one-third of all the people living in the United States suffers from at least one food poisoning each year! There is also evidence that the intensity and long-lasting effects of these attacks has increased in number in the past few years. Most of these cases are never reported to authorities or properly diagnosed. So only a small fraction of the total number that actually occur is reported (ibid.).

This confusion is due to the fact that the acute phase of a food poisoning (which, in minor cases, generally is a few days of diarrhea and gastrointestinal upset) is similar to the onset of an infectious disease (James A. Lindsey, Emerging Infectious Diseases, October/December 1997).

Recent studies disclose that many food-borne pathogens can precipitate long-term ailments, such as heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, neurological problems, autoimmune disorders, and kidney damage. (See Tauxe, "Emerging Food-borne Diseases.")

"Newly emerging pathogens" are diseases which formerly were not a problem for humans. We, formerly, lived carefully and used clean methods to prepare our food. But many of the new outbreaks result from the meat served in fast-food restaurants or packaged meats in grocery stores.

E. coli 0157:H7 is the most dangerous E. coli bacterium at the present time. E. coli bacteria are normally found in the billions in the intestines of every mammal, including humans. But when a person swallows live E. coli 0157:H7, it can kill him. E. coli 0157:H7 was first isolated in 1982 and would be no problem to us—if new assembly line methods of raising food animals, slaughtering them, and packaging the contents had not been introduced. (See Armstrong, et al., "Emerging Food-borne Pathogens.")

Several E. coli types (called serotypes) are known. Two of the most dangerous are 0157:H7 and 0104:H21. Both cause severe bloody diarrhea and, in children, hemolytic uremic syndrome (kidney failure and destruction of red blood cells), which can lead to death. The bacteria can be found in beef, milk (raw and pasteurized), sausage, apple cider, and venison. Research and news reports focus attention on 0157:H7, so we will also.

Cattle infected with E. coli 0157:H7 can appear healthy and show few signs of illness. There may have been some infections from it years ago, but the wide dispersion of the disease did not occur until huge feedlots, slaughterhouses, and hamburger grinders took over the meat industry. Making more money is the name of the game, and people who eat meat are in far greater danger than ever before.

American meat production has never before been so automated and centralized. Thirteen large packinghouses now slaughter most of the beef consumed in the U.S. ("U.S. Meat Slaughter Consolidating Rapidly," USDA Food Review, May 1, 1997). This meat-packing system arose in order to supply the nation’s fast-food chains. But it has resulted in a massive increase in food-borne pathogens in the meat served to you.

In addition to E. coli 0157:H7 and 0104:H21, over the past two decades scientists have discovered more than a dozen other new food-borne pathogens, including Campylobacter jejuni, Cryptosporidium parvum, Cyclospora cayetanensis, Listeria monocytogenes, and Norwalk-like viruses (cited in Tauxe, "Emerging Food-borne Diseases").

Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg. Incredibly, the CDC estimates that more than three-fourths of the food-related illnesses and deaths in the U.S. are caused by infectious agents that have not yet been identified! (See "Food-related Illness and Deaths.")

But, be assured, neither the meat industry nor the fast-food industry wants the situation exposed. They would rather that you not know the facts, and keep eating their ham- and beefburgers, fried chicken, and other delicacies.

These pathogens, which have only recently been discovered, tend to be carried by apparently healthy animals. Sometimes the problem lies in the garbage (including manure) the animals ate in their "high-protein feed pellets." Sometimes it is the handling as waste matter came in contact with the carcasses of those animals during slaughtering or processing.

A nationwide study, published by the USDA in 1996, revealed that 7.5% of the ground beef samples taken at processing plants were contaminated with Salmonella, 11.7% were contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, 30% were contaminated with Staphylococcus Aureus, and 53.3% were contaminated with Clostridium perfringens ("Nationwide Federal Plant Raw Ground Beef Microbiological Survey, August 1993-March 1994," USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service, April 1996).

All of those pathogens can make people sick. Food poisoning by Listeria generally requires hospitalization and proves fatal in about 20% of the people whom it infects (Meade, et al., "Food-related Illness and Death").

How did the pathogens get on that meat you eat? In the USDA study, 78.6% of the ground beef contained microbes that are spread primarily by fecal matter. In the medical literature, there is continual reference to "coliform levels," "aerobic plate counts," and similar terms. What it all means is that there is manure in the burgers you are eating.

The question is not why they are there. Researchers know the reason. The question is why do you keep eating the stuff. Every dollar you pay for such inferior food only enriches the industry which is providing you and your loved ones with such indecent food fare.

It is an interesting fact that, back in the first part of the 20th century, ham- and beefburgers were considered unsafe foods. It was well-known back then that the burger-grinding machine in the local meat markets was used to process the most inferior cuts of meat.

Yet today, people think that burgers are the greatest thing in the world. And those burgers changed the food habits of Americans. By the early 1990s, beef production was responsible for almost half of the employment in American agriculture, and the annual revenues generated by beef were higher than those of any other agricultural commodity in the U.S. The average American ate three burgers a week (National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Fact Sheet). More than two-thirds were bought at fast-food restaurants (San Diego Union-Tribune, August 27, 1997).

Of that number, children between the ages of seven and 13 ate more burgers than anyone else (a survey by McDonald’s, cited in Boas and Chain, Big Mac, p. 218). Yet they are the most susceptible to severe illness and death from E. coli 0157:H7. In January 1993, physicians at a Seattle hospital noticed that an unusual number of children were being admitted with bloody diarrhea. Some were suffering from hemolytic uremic syndrome, a previously rare disorder that causes kidney damage. Health officials soon traced the outbreak to undercooked burgers at local fast-food restaurants. Before it was over, more than 700 people in at least four states were sickened by those burgers, more than 200 were hospitalized, and four died. Most of the victims were children (CDC report, April 16, 1993).

One of the first to become ill was Lauren Rudolph. She ate a hamburger at a San Diego fast-food restaurant a week before Christmas. Admitted to the hospital on Christmas Eve, she suffered terrible pain, had three heart attacks, and died in her mother’s arms on December 28, 1992. She was only six years old.

In the eight years following that outbreak, approximately half a million Americans, the majority of them children, have been made ill by E. coli 0157:H7. Thousands have been hospitalized and hundreds have died. Yet the government does little to regulate, much less stop, the carnage (based on Meade, et al., "Food-Related Illness and Death").

As mentioned earlier, E. Coli is a bacterium which normally is in everyone’s intestines. These tiny creatures help us digest food, synthesize B vitamins, and guard against dangerous organisms. E. coli 0157:H7 is highly dangerous. It can release a powerful toxin, called a verotoxin or Shiga toxin, which attacks the lining of the intestine.

In about 4% of reported cases, the Shiga toxins enter the bloodstream, causing hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and the destruction of vital organs. These Shiga toxins can cause seizures, neurological damage, and strokes. About 5% of the children which develop HUS are killed by it. Those who survive are often left with permanent disabilities, such as blindness or brain damage (Meade, et al., "Food-Related Illness and Death").

The elderly, children under five, and people with impaired immune systems are the most likely to experience the worst effects of E. coli 0157:H7. It is now the leading cause of kidney failure among children in the U.S. ("Isolation of E. coli 0157:H7 from Sporadic Cases of Hemorrhagic Colitis: United States," Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, CDC, August 1, 1997).

What do physicians use to treat the infection? There is hardly any help that they are able to provide. About all they can do is give fluids, blood transfusions, and kidney dialysis. Antibiotics are useless and can make the infection worse by killing the pathogen, thus suddenly releasing all its Shiga toxins.

E. coli 0157:H7 is easy to transmit and can live in freshwater or seawater! It can live on dry kitchen countertops for days and in moist environments for weeks. It is extremely difficult to get it off countertops, sinks, food utensils, and refrigerators. It is resistant to acid, salt, and chlorine; and it can withstand freezing as well as temperatures up to 160o F. How likely are you to boil the top of your kitchen counters, your sink, your eating utensils, or your plates? Put some infected meat on them, and you are in deep trouble.

To be infected by most food-borne pathogens (such as Salmonella), you have to consume a fairly large dose: at least a million organisms. But an infection with E. coli 0157:H7 has been shown to be caused by as few as five organisms! One tiny, uncooked particle of ham- or beefburger meat can have enough of the pathogens to kill you (Armstrong, et al., "Food-borne Pathogens").

Small traces of infected raw manure are the cause. People can be infected with this amazing organism by drinking contaminated water, swimming in a contaminated lake or water park, or crawling on a contaminated carpet. Eating undercooked ground beef is a common cause. But you can also get it from contaminated salad greens, raw milk, and unpasteurized apple cider. The pathogen can also be spread by the feces of deer, dogs, horses, and flies (ibid.).

The reason so many cattle and hogs now transmit it is because they are raised in feedlots, where they feed while standing in a slushy pile of manure and urine.

During the Dark Ages, people threw their chamber pots out in the streets and epidemics frequently occurred. Now hogs and cattle live in pools of manure, and you eat them when they are killed.

Feedlots are very efficient methods for spreading E. coli 0157:H7 throughout the population of our nation. They "recirculate the manure," and that particular bacterium can replicate in cattle troughs and survive in manure (outside the intestines) for up to 90 days (P. Hammel and H.J. Cordes, Omaha World-Herald, December 15, 1997).

The underlying problem is that the government should be protecting us from infected meat. It should require much slower operations at processing plants. Microbiological analysis should be used. Processing plants should reimburse the government for all inspection and related costs. It should heavily fine firms which ship out infected meat. It should close down those who refuse to clean up their operations. It should provide complete disclosure to the public when there is an infectious outbreak. It should require processing plants to provide relevant information.