McDonalds and Costco made headlines last week when they announced a campaign to eliminate the sale of food products treated with antibiotics. While many consumers rejoiced, others questioned the need for such a proclamation. Are farmers needlessly injecting their animals with antibiotics? Is there antibiotic residue in the meat we eat? How can consumers be assured their food is truly safe? As a small meat processor, I have seen firsthand the USDA’s commitment to this issue. Countless hours have been spent discussing preventative measures and receiving training to ensure that the food produced within my facility is safe for human consumption.
In order to be eligible for slaughter, animals must be able to walk off the trailer and pass an ante-mortem inspection…things that are not always easy when sick livestock are involved. While the media would have consumers believe that antibiotics are unnecessarily pumped into healthy animals, the truth is that sometimes – despite a farmer’s best efforts – livestock get sick. Random infections, traumatic births, and muscle aches are all reasons why good farmers make the choice to medicate their animals. Unfortunately, sometimes the medicines do not work and the producer is forced to decide the greater good…humanely slaughtering the animal in a facility such as mine with the hope of preserving the meat, or allowing the animal to finish its life on the farm where prolonged suffering may occur. This choice is not an easy one.
To aid my customers in this process, all producers are asked to complete a livestock verification form when bringing their animals for slaughter. This internal documentation ensures the topics of age, origin, and health are discussed with every animal. Through these conversations, I have denied service to several producers over the years whose livestock did not meet the recommended antibiotic withdrawl period. In every case, these farmers were more concerned about the safety of their animals and their consumers than about their profit.
Unfortunately, larger slaughterhouses do not always have the ability to talk directly with farmers and learn the health-history of every animal…making the USDA’s role even more important. As part of their commitment to food safety, the USDA randomly samples meat from every facility to ensure that it is clear of all pathogens and residue. These carcasses are held at the processor until the results are analyzed and the USDA is satisfied the meat is completely safe. While admittedly not a full-proof method, this random sampling has proven to be very effective in preventing tainted meat from entering the market.
As we have seen this past week, retailers like McDonalds and Costco are good at making headlines. However, consumers can feel confident knowing that farmers, processors, and USDA staff are committed to making safe meat products…not just for your family but also for our own!