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Cheap Processed Meat Comes with a Hefty Price Tag
There has been a significant amount of attention recently pertaining to some of the controversial techniques adopted in modern meat processing; aside from the outrage regarding the inhumane conditions imposed unnecessarily on the animals, there is also serious concern about the possible health risks it brings to humans.
Case in point, when British chef Jamie Oliver won his case against the McDonalds Corporation by exposing their controversial technique of treating scrap meat with ammonia to render it suitable for human consumption (Oliver ~ 2012), the McDonalds Corporation was forced to take a public stance, informing the consumer that they were phasing out this process.
Despite this victory it was later exposed in an ABC news report that this technique was also being used to process 70% of US supermarket ground beef products (Avila ~ 2012). Other recent scandals include contaminated meat products tainted with horse meat in Europe (Guard ~ 2013). However, according to a report by the World Cancer Research Fund (Mecola ~ 2011) the gravest danger lies in other types of processed meat products like spam, corned beef, ham, bacon, hot dogs and certain other types of sausages.
After reviewing more than 7000 clinical studies the report concluded “There is strong evidence that … processed meats are causes of bowel cancer, and that there is no amount of processed meat that can be confidently shown not to increase risk…”
So what is it that makes these processed meats so deadly?
According to Dr. Mecola it is the addition of nitrates which pose the biggest risk. Nitrates added to processed meats are frequently converted into nitrosamines which have been found to be strongly connected to certain types of cancers.
Processed meats are also frequently cooked at high temperatures which can cause the formation of as many as 20 different types of heterocyclic amines (HCA). Dr Mecola says that cooking at high temperatures has also been shown to increase the number of
nitrosamines, he therefore recommends the avoidance of charring your meat on the BBQ grill.
In light of all this hard to ignore evidence, how is it that the public remains so perfunctory?
The answer lies in the attraction of today’s indisputably low cost meat prices; in an interview with the PBS program “Frontline”, Patrick Boyle CEO of the “American Meat Institute” (Boyle ~ 2002) is quoted as saying “Meat is a relative bargain today compared to what it was 10¬20 years ago”. This was Boyles response to a comment the interviewer made about a statistic he had read that
stated “The price of beef was roughly half of what it was back in 1970”. As with most other economic benefits, human nature dictates cost to be a dominant factor, thus forcing other elements of the equation lower down on the list of priorities in any decision making process. This is unfortunate; but in society we are conditioned to focus on the short term benefits rather
than consider long term values. A recent CNN report predicts there will be a 57% rise in cancer cases worldwide over the next 20 years (Hume, et al ~ 2014), the report advocates more commitment to preventive measures and early detection.
For prevention to be effective the report addresses the need for lifestyle changes in the areas of smoking, alcohol consumption diet and exercise. Of the four activities listed above, diet is the only one that affects every human on the planet, after all, you can live without alcohol, tobacco and even exercise, but food is a non negotiable to sustaining life.
Furthermore, through campaign advertising the public has been made much more aware of the dangers pertaining to cigarettes and alcohol; even though many are in denial of the consequences of engaging in these two recreational activities. On the other hand, consumers have to rely on governments to ensure their food is kept safe through regulatory agencies like the “Food and Drugs Administration” (FDA).
The shameful truth however is that all too often integrity loses out to the almighty power of the dollar and food production is no exception. Thus the predicted global surge in cancer cases will never be avoided or markedly reduced without a call to change in attitudes. If we are to defeat the cash rich lobbyists (who block every bill that threatens their profit margins), there needs to be a public outcry which will only come about by educating the masses. Yet this alone of itself will not be a sufficient action; in addition we need more research into finding alternative safer ways of processing meat; ways that can also sustain a global economy. Organic meat production has been criticized for being uneconomically viable. But is this just rhetoric from the mass meat producers, those who are reluctant to diverge from taking short-cuts in the name of easy profit margin increases?
A group of British scientists believe that organic farming methods are more than capable of producing quantities of food that would be sufficient to sustain large populations, stating that “The lower quantity yields can be offset by the savings in chemical additives, fertilizers and machinery” (Podger ~ 1999).
A successful change will require a cooperative team effort from all of the participating bodies of society. Every player in the game needs to first understand how their own interests will benefit them long term, because unless everyone is a winner embracing safer ways to produce our food will never happen. Corporations have an opportunity to revise their business models and adapt to safer practices of food production, while governments need to enforce transparency and honesty regarding content labelling by food companies. In return both entities will enjoy a higher level of trust and confidence from the public who also have their part to play by becoming more aware to the risks associated with modern meat production.
The benefit to the consumer will be a drastic reduction in risk to their long term health. Of course we all want our slice of a successful economy, the consumer wants cheap food, corporations want high profit margins, and governments want to gain the support and trust of their citizens.
However an all out victory that benefits everybody cannot prevail unless each party first acknowledges this need for change. The concept of cheaper food and lucrative profits may seem like an alluring gratification, but if we continue churning out low cost meat products like we do ultimately we will pay in other ways, and the price tag that we incur for this will far exceed the financial savings we currently enjoy. The health Industry worldwide already bears a brutal financial burden for the treatment of cancer.
According to a CNN report published in 2010 the cost to the health industry for treating cancer patients globally was estimated at $1.6 trillion; much of this could have been avoided if preventive programs had been implemented much earlier. The bottom line is are you willing to pay the exorbitant hidden interest on your cheap cuts of meat in years to come?
Oliver, Jamie ~ “Victory for Jamie Oliver in the US as McDonalds is forced to stop using pink slime in its burger recipe” Daily Mail 01/27/ 2012 and Web 06/10/2014 ~ Victory for Jamie Oliver.
Avila, John ~ “70% of Ground Beef at Supermarkets Contains’ Pink Slime” ABC News 03/07/2012 and Web 06/10/2014 ~ 70% of Supermarket Ground Beef has Pink Slime.
Dr. Mercolita ~ “If you eat processed meats are you risking your life?” Mercola.com 01/22/2011 and Web 06/09/2014 ~ Dangers of Processed Meat.
Hume, Tim. Christensen, Jen ~ “WHO: Imminent global cancer ‘disaster’ reflects aging, lifestyle factors” CNN Health Tuesday Feb 4th 2014 and Web 06/11/2014 ~ Imminent Global Cancer, reflects Lifestyle.
theguardian.com ~ “How the horse meat scandal unfolded ¬ timeline” The Guardian 02/15/2012 and Web 06/10/2014 ~ How the Horse meat Scandal Unfolded.
Boyle, Patrick ~ “Industrial Meat” PBS Frontline, Web 06/09/2014 ~ Modern Meat Processing.
British Cancer Society ~ “Processed meat consumption and risk of cancer: a multi-site case–control study in Uruguay” ~ Processed meat consumption linked to cancer.
Modern Meat ~ “Meet Your Meat” Top Documentary Films 2006”, Web 06/10/2014 ~ Modern Meat.