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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

“Transparency” – It is “time for change” at USDA/FSIS and in the Meat Industry

When the USDA/FSIS and the Beef Industry are taking a hit for a Kansas Columnist, they need wake up and to take a hard look what’s on the grill (bad mixed metaphor).

Last week I had a long talk with Ric Anderson of the Topeka-Capital Journal for his opinion piece – “Burger story shows need for more transparency.” Part of his focus was on the New York Times story last week, “ Safety of Beef Processing Method Is Questioned,” that focused on the use of ammonia as a “processing agent” and not an “additive.” That "meat" became the focus of the Times after jarring our attention by its story, "E. coli Path Shows Flaws in Beef Inspection."

However, what was his clear concern was the lack of “transparency” between the government and industry and the consuming public on the ammonia issue or the recent "mechanically tenderized" steaks recall – I could not agree more:

McDonald’s and Burger King use the product in their burgers, as does Cargill. Bill Marler, a Seattle-based attorney who has represented consumers in several major food contamination lawsuits, said the meat is used only in frozen patties and is not mixed into fresh ground beef sold in grocery cases.

If you’re surprised to learn about the ammoniated beef, Marler said, you’re not alone. The U.S. Department of Agriculture ruled that ammonia was a "processing agent" for the product and therefore didn’t have to be listed as an ingredient on the label. BPI, on its Web site, says the ammonia in its product is a "slight amount" higher than the level that occurs naturally in beef.

The Times story focused on safety issues, with some sources raising concerns and BPI insisting the product is safe and even kills pathogens in meat into which it’s mixed.

But Marler sees the bigger concern as one of transparency. Federal regulators need to require meatpackers to identify what’s in their products and how they’re made, he said.

"It’s a failure of the (Food Safety and Inspection Service) to force companies to provide the public with information they need to determine if products are healthy," he said.

He’s right. Especially here in the Midwest, we know that getting food from the farm to the table isn’t always a pretty process. But as unsavory as the details might be, it’s better to know them up front than to get surprises like the Times story.

If you can get a columnist in Kansas and a trial lawyer in Seattle to agree, government and industry should pay attention.