Stop Buying 'Fake' Beef

stop buying fake beef

Story at-a-glance -

  • In a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), ranch groups and cattle producers allege that millions of pounds of imported beef are being labeled as “Products of the USA”
  • The USDA has argued that imported beef can be labeled as U.S. beef if it comes from a country with food safety standards that are equivalent to those in the U.S.
  • In 2013, the country-of-origin-label (COOL) rule was improved and meat packages were supposed to be required to label where the animal that provided your meat was born, raised and slaughtered
  • In 2015, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled U.S. law requiring COOL labels on meat was illegal, as it discriminated against Canadian and Mexican meat companies and gave an advantage to U.S. meat producers
  • Look for the American Grassfed Association (AGA) logo on your meat and dairy, which ensures the highest quality, U.S.-born and raised, grass fed products

By Dr. Mercola

The average American is slated to eat about 800 burgers’ worth of beef in 2018, or about 222 pounds.1 Where you get this beef, how it’s raised and, ultimately, the way it is prepared make all the difference in how it affects your health and the environment. Source matters — greatly — and part of that includes knowing where your beef was raised. You’d probably assume that beef labeled “Product of the USA” was a product of the U.S., but this isn’t necessarily the case.

In a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, ranch groups R-CALF USA and the Cattle Producers of Washington (CPoW) allege that millions of pounds of imported beef are being labeled as “Products of the USA.” They cite the Tariff Act of 1930, which requires imported beef to be labeled with its country-of-origin, including when it reaches the consumer, “unless the beef undergoes substantial transformation” in the U.S.2

However, the USDA has argued that imported beef can be treated as U.S. beef if it comes from a country with food safety standards that are equivalent to those in the U.S. As reported by the American Grassfed Association (AGA), “Consequently, the Secretary allows multinational meatpackers to label imported beef as ‘Products of the USA’ even if the imported beef receives only minor processing, such as unwrapping and rewrapping the package.”3

Why Is Imported Meat Allowed To Be Labeled as US Meat?

While it seems like labeling meat to let consumers know where it came from would be a straightforward requirement, it’s anything but. The original Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) rule, which was approved in 2002 and took effect in 2008, required the country of origin to be listed on meat labels. In 2013, the COOL rule was improved and meat packages were supposed to be required to label where the animal that provided your meat was born, raised and slaughtered.

At the time, industrial meat producers like Tyson, Cargill and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association were among those who spoke out against the rule, calling it unnecessarily costly and “shortsighted,” while fearing it would shrink demand for imported meat. Unfortunately for U.S. consumers seeking greater transparency in their food sources, the meat giants needn’t have worried because global dictators stepped in and essentially told consumers they don’t have the right to know.

In 2015, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled U.S. law requiring COOL labels on meat was illegal, as it discriminated against Canadian and Mexican meat companies and gave an advantage to U.S. meat producers.4 WTO even ordered more than $1 billion in trade sanctions annually against the U.S. if the COOL labels were not weakened or removed altogether. As reported by the Huffington Post:5

“[The] World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling against the country-of-origin meat labels (COOL) that Americans rely on to make informed choices about their food provides a glaring example of how trade agreements can undermine U.S. public interest policies … Mexican and Canadian livestock producers and the U.S. meat processing industry fought fiercely against the policy’s initial enactment and then turn to deregulation-by-trade-agreement as Plan B.”

Americans Want to Know Where Their Meat Comes From

As it stands there is no USDA requirement that beef or pork be labeled to let consumers know what country it came from, despite the fact that Americans overwhelmingly want to know. A Consumers Union poll found that 93 percent of those who responded said they favored country-of-origin labeling.6 And why wouldn’t they? It’s one more way for you to know where your food comes from, providing once commonplace information that has disappeared in the industrial food arena.

By removing COOL, multinational companies are allowed to pass off imported meat as U.S.-raised, while U.S. farmers suffer. AGA noted, “Evidence submitted by the groups indicate that U.S. cattle producers received higher prices for their cattle when the origins of foreign beef was distinguished in the marketplace.” AGA president Will Harris continued:7

“The American Grassfed Family Farmer suffers financially, from this intentional anonymity, more than any other segment of the meat industry. Thank you R-Calf for bringing this injustice to light. Some American Consumers make the decision to pay a premium for beef that is produced in a humane and regenerative manner.

They do this, in part, to positively impact lands, animals and farm communities in the United States. Hiding the National Origin of products from these consumers is a travesty. It should not be tolerated.”

Meanwhile, the lawsuit against the USDA alleges that it’s actually illegal for the USDA to allow meat without country-of-origin labels because it violates the Meat Inspection Act. That act requires COOL on imported steaks and chops, according to Public Justice, which is representing the ranchers’ groups behind the lawsuit.

“And if you don’t believe our suit, believe the USDA itself,” Public Justice reported. “The department had COOL requirements in place for eight years, and it did so in order to be in compliance with the Meat Inspection Act. In other words, the USDA knows its current policies don’t follow the law; it is just captured by corporate interests. It’s time for that to change.”8

JBS Scandal Highlights the Importance of Transparency in the Food Supply

Located in Brazil, JBS is the world’s largest meat company, having acquired U.S. Swift and Company in 2007 and Smithfield's beef business in 2008. In 2009, JBS became a majority stockholder in poultry giant Pilgrim's Pride. In 2017, however, JBS became mostly known for being surrounded in scandals, particularly in their home country of Brazil, which is one of the world's largest meat exporters.

The meat business, much like other large industries, has connections at various levels of government. In the case of meat exports from Brazil, those connections have reached all the way to the country's president. In 2017, authorities in Brazil suspended 33 government employees and closed three slaughterhouses after finding factory managers had bribed politicians and inspectors to obtain meat export certificates for meat that had never been inspected.9

This was the largest organized federal police effort in Brazil, which police used to dismantle a "criminal organization" that had used kickbacks to aid the production and exportation of adulterated meat by meat producer JBS. As a result of corruption charges, Brazilian prosecutors fined JBS $3.1 billion, an assessment that came on the heels of another plea agreement between the Brazilian government and JBS that included reduced sentences for seven executives from the company.10

Although JBS did not disclose the corruption charges, investigations into President Michel Temer were launched following a leaked recording of Temer condoning a JBS executive to bribe politician Eduardo Cunha,11 serving 15 years after being found guilty of tax evasion, money laundering and corruption.

The U.S. and other countries temporarily halted imports of Brazilian beef following the scandal, and JBS began selling off some of its assets in Brazil and Europe, along with all of its U.S. cattle feedlots, which hold nearly 1 million cattle. R-CALF, which is part of the COOL lawsuit against the USDA, has also called for an investigation into JBS USA. Former Montana rancher Bill Bullard, R-CALF’s CEO, said in a news release:12

“Here we have a company whose business model includes bribery and other corrupt practices … We believe that it’s highly possible that this company is deploying this same corrupt business model here in the United States of America.”

Grass Fed Is Best for Beef

When in search of the best beef for your health and the environment, it’s not only the country of origin that matters but also the conditions in which it’s raised. Grass fed is the clear winner. For starters, it’s better for you, with beneficial conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) levels increasing by two- to threefold when cattle are grass finished as opposed to grain finished.13 This is a significant benefit, as CLA is associated with a lower risk of cancer and heart disease and optimized cholesterol levels.

The ratio of dietary fats is also healthier in grass fed beef, and it is also higher in antioxidants like vitamins E and A, along with the enzymes superoxide dismutase and catalase, which mop up free radicals that could otherwise hasten oxidation and spoilage.14

Grain feeding cows also encourages the growth of E. coli in the animals’ gut, as it leads to a more acidic environment. Grain-fed cows live in a state of chronic inflammation, which increases their risk of infection and disease, and necessitates low doses of antibiotics in feed for disease prevention purposes.15

This isn’t the case with grass fed cattle, which stay naturally healthy as they’re allowed access to pasture, sunshine and the outdoors. In a Consumer Reports study of 300 raw ground beef samples, grass fed beef raised without antibiotics was three times less likely to be contaminated with multidrug-resistant bacteria compared to conventional CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) samples.16

The grass fed beef was also less likely to be contaminated with E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus than the CAFO meat. So while giving you more nutrition, you’re also less likely to be exposed to drug-resistant pathogens when eating grass fed food.

Further, while CAFOs are top sources of air and water pollution, grass fed farming regenerates the soil and maintains ecological balance without relying on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Last, but certainly not least, the basic elements of animal welfare are missing from CAFOs, while animals raised on pasture are afforded the freedom to express their natural behaviors, making it the humane choice as well.

Imports of grass fed beef, which make up 75 percent to 80 percent of U.S. grass fed beef sales by value, pose a hurdle, however. Australia and Brazil can produce grass fed beef at a lower cost, as their climate allows for year-round grazing. But as with conventional beef, U.S. consumers may not know the grass fed beef they purchase isn’t from the U.S., because as long as a piece of imported beef passes through a USDA-inspected plant, it can be labeled as a "Product of the USA."

Looking for U.S.-Raised, Grass Fed Beef? Look for the AGA Logo

According to "Back to Grass: The Market Potential for U.S. Grassfed Beef," a report produced by a collaboration between sustainable agriculture and ecological farming firms, accurate labeling is imperative to "ensure that consumers are getting what they think they're buying."17 Not only may you be buying imported beef without knowing it, the grass fed beef you're buying may not be as wholesome as you expect it to be, thanks to weak standards.

Unfortunately, the USDA is not doing nearly enough to provide transparency for U.S. consumers, which is why I encourage you to either buy direct from a trust farm or look for The American Grassfed Association (AGA) logo, a much-needed grass fed standards and certification for American-grown grass fed meat and dairy.18

The standard allows for greater transparency and conformity19 and is intended to ensure the humane treatment of animals and meet consumer expectations about grass fed meat and dairy, while being feasible for small farmers to achieve.

An AGA logo on a product lets you know the animals were fed a lifetime diet of 100 percent forage, were raised on pasture (not in confinement) and were not treated with hormones or antibiotics.20 In addition, the AGA logo on your meat and dairy ensures the animals were born and raised on American family farms,21 which is far more than can be said for the USDA-allowed, and incredibly misleading, “Product of U.S.A.” stamps that favor multinational corporations over small U.S. farmers.

Consumers must now face the fight against the globalist agenda of corporations like JBS, and an excellent start is by supporting the real U.S. grass fed farmers.

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