The bad news: as long as we keep on hearing about E. coli outbreaks, there’s still poop in our food. The good news: the USDA is stepping in to make it harder for meat processors to sell tainted meat to the population. The regulations in question target different pathogenic strains of the deadly E. coli bacteria, which is inadvertently transmitted from animal fecal matter into ground beef during the processing stage.
The New York Times reports: “The new rule, which officials said would be announced on Tuesday, means that six relatively rare forms of E. coli will be treated the same as their notorious and more common cousin, a strain called E. coli O157:H7. That strain has caused deaths and illnesses and prompted the recall of millions of pounds of ground beef and other products.”
Though lots of other toxic bacteria are allowed to be sold with meat (surprise!), E. coli strains pose a significant problem, which is why they are singled out for regulation. Whereas no one would dream of serving undercooked or raw chicken or turkey, many foodies prefer their beef rare. This means that it doesn’t get to temperatures high enough to kill the bacteria, causing problems for the consumer.
Though most consumer protection groups believe that this is ultimately a move that will save lives, beef industry insiders are — in a familiar trope — saying that this is unnecessary regulation that will only hurt businesses and job creators. Says the American Meat Institute in a statement, “Imposing this new regulatory program on ground beef will cost tens of millions of federal and industry dollars — costs that likely will be borne by taxpayers and consumers. It is neither likely to yield a significant public health benefit nor is it good public policy.”
Given how deadly these six bacteria are — they are linked to kidney failure and death — double checking for them is the least that the meat industry could do. This is especially true given the fact that E. coli doesn’t simply appear out of nowhere: it comes from feces from inside the factory. Furthermore, in light Cargill’s recent recall of tainted turkey meat, it seems like these regulations could actually help the industry retain credibility instead of hurting business.
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