Why Purchasing Meat at Whole Foods May be a Risky Proposition

meat, beef, e.coli, whole foodsThe recall of ground beef at Whole Foods Market has shed a new spotlight on Nebraska Beef of Omaha, one of the country's largest meatpackers. Seven people in Massachusetts, from ages 3 to 60, were sickened by E. coli from beef bought at Whole Foods stores. The same strain has sickened 31 people in 12 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada.

The Whole Foods ground beef was among 1.2 million pounds of Nebraska Beef recalled on Friday. The processor also recalled 5 million pounds produced in May and June after its beef was blamed for another E. coli outbreak in seven states.

Sanitation violations over the past six years at Nebraska Beef, include:

  • The USDA shut down the plant three times in 2002 and 2003 for problems such as *** on carcasses and water dripping off pipes onto meat
  • In 2004 and early 2005, Nebraska Beef was written up at least five times for not removing brains or spinal cords from the food supply, as required
  • U.S. inspectors in August 2006 threatened to suspend Nebraska Beef operations for not following requirements for controlling E. coli
  • Also in 2006, Minnesota health officials blamed Nebraska Beef for sickening 17 people who ate meatballs at a church potluck; several victims filed lawsuits against Nebraska Beef, including the family of a woman who died

Whole Foods claims that it did not know that their supplier, Meyer Natural Angus (sold under the Coleman Natural brand), had switched processing plants to the Nebraska Beef facility. A not-so-simple oversight as Whole Foods has long audited the slaughterhouse facilities from which it is supplied.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Clearly, mass food production is showing signs of neglect, and that neglect is passed down to consumers looking to buy fresh, organic food.

Or at least what consumers believe is fresh organic food. In this case, Meyer Natural Angus’ beef, which is sold in Whole Foods’ stores and declares itself “natural beef” raised without hormones or antibiotics, is NOT necessarily the healthy grass-fed beef I recommend consuming.

What’s the difference between “natural, antibiotic and hormone free” beef and grass-fed beef?

Well, in this case it’s Meyer’s definition of natural. According to their website, their beef is “raised on a strictly vegetarian diet. They are fed only natural feed and rations, such as pasture grass, hay, grains and legumes, and then finished on a corn-based diet for true corn-fed flavor.”

Essentially, barely better than conventionally raised cattle, with the exception of not containing antibiotics or hormones.

Why is Grass-Fed Beef Your Best Choice?

A safer option, as many consumers are beginning to appreciate, is to choose locally grown and raised foods over those that have been mass produced, despite label claims of being “natural” or “organic.”

When selecting beef, grass-fed beef that has NOT been “finished off on corn” is definitely your healthiest option as it is:

  • A natural source of healthy omega-3 fats – Omega-3s in cattle that feed on grass is 7 percent of the total fat content, compared to just 1 percent in grain-only fed beef. It also has the optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats (3:1)
  • High in CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid); a fat that reduces your risk of cancer, obesity, diabetes, and a number of immune disorders
  • Full of beta carotene
  • Loaded with over 400 percent more of vitamins A and E
  • Virtually devoid of risk of Mad Cow Disease

You know, the rationale behind my nutritional guidelines really boil down to plain old common sense. My recommendations stem largely from what scientific research has determined are the types of foods that humans are naturally designed to eat. Health problems invariably surface the further you stray from eating such foods.

Another way to say this would be that your body's biochemical make-up is adversely affected if you eat things that aren't right for you. One result of this is that your body's composition will inevitably change.

Why would things be any different for a cow?

When you think of a cow in its natural environment, doing what it naturally does, you likely will picture it grazing. Is it grazing on stalks of corn? Of course not! It's grazing on God’s green grass.

Grass is a cow's natural food. Corn and other grains have never been a natural part of their diet.

When cows eat grains their body’s composition changes as well. Most importantly for you, these changes include an alteration in the balance of fatty acids in their bodies, which leads to an imbalance in YOUR intake of omega-3 and omega-6s as well.

Does the E. Coli Risk Decrease With Grass-Fed Beef as Well?

Yes, it does. Grass-finished beef has a minimal risk compared to grain-fed beef due to the difference in epigastric pH in the two diets.

Grain diets create a much higher level of acidity in the animal’s stomach, which the E.coli bacteria need to survive. And grass-finished animals live in clean grass pastures where higher levels of sanitation greatly reduce the risk as well.

Buying Straight From the Rancher

Your best bet is always to purchase your beef directly from a trusted rancher whose farming practices you’re familiar with. Supporting local farmers and ranchers can go a long way toward improving the entire food system, and more importantly, your personal health.

The article “Better Beef,” written by California rancher Dave Evans and published in the March 2008 issue of Best Life magazine, gives a great in-depth view of the many benefits of grass-fed beef, from environmental sustainability to the sheer difference in taste and nutrient content of the beef. 

Evans also offers this list of grass-fed beef ranchers in the United States, where you can find good-quality meats: