Drugs in your meat? Not a chance!

A Consumer Reports article claims that samples of meat contained trace amounts of illegal street drugs. Here’s how the industry should respond.

Amanda Radke

September 4, 2018

4 Min Read
Drugs in your meat? Not a chance!
Beef Checkoff

The target on beef’s back is bigger than ever, and nothing will prove this point more than an article that was published last week titled “Report: Banned drugs from antibiotics to antidepressants have been found in your meat.”

Published by Consumer Reports, the article claims that trace amounts of drugs such as chloramphenicol (an antibiotic linked to potentially deadly anemia) and ketamine (a hallucinogenic drug and antidepressant also known as Special K) have been found in samples of meat.

According to the article, “Food scientists at Consumer Reports analyzed government data from almost 6,000 samples of meat collected over an 11-month period from 2015 to 2016. What’s explosive is immediately seeing these drugs, which were never approved for use in food animals because they’re highly hazardous, still showing up in the food supply. It’s stunning.”

What’s stunning to me is something like this could actually be published! At first read, I thought to myself that these claims were so out of left field that it would be impossible to formulate a response. The article had rendered me speechless, and I see this as one of the largest biased and blatantly targeted attacks against our industry.

READ: How to handle a biased reporter

Yet, while we know these claims are unfounded, we also know how damaging claims like this can be, so the industry must respond.

Fortunately, the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) was quick to release a statement to help us out. Here is an excerpt from a letter written by Carmen Rottenberg, FSIS acting deputy under secretary:

“You may have seen a Consumer Reports story claiming that the poultry and meat you purchase in the grocery store and feed your families could contain harmful drug residues. That is not true. This story is sensational and fear-based infotainment aimed at confusing shoppers with pseudoscience and scare tactics.

“Consumer Reports admits in their closing paragraph that the real agenda behind this piece is to convince Americans to eat less meat. Shame on Consumer Reports for attempting to advance a rhetoric that lacks scientific support or data, at the expense of American producers and the 9,000 food safety professionals who ensure the safety of meat and poultry in this country every day.”

Read the full statement by clicking here.

Additionally, John Robinson, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association vice president of membership and communications, said, “Today’s Consumer Reports article is nothing more than sensationalist journalism. The article, which bases its findings on unconfirmed residue screening tests of meat, draws false and misleading conclusions meant to deceive consumers and reduce the consumption of meat.

“The unconfirmed results utilized by the author were erroneously released by USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) in March of this year following receipt of a Freedom of Information Act request. After realizing the mistake, FSIS worked to correct the error and provide accurate data from confirmed tests. However, even after accurate information was provided by FSIS, Consumer Reports continued to utilize the inaccurate information on which the article is based.

“Articles such as this only serve to create an inaccurate atmosphere of mistrust about the safety of the U.S. meat supply and cast doubt on the U.S. National Residue Program at FSIS. Knowingly printing inaccurate and misleading articles, which rely on information that is known to be false, misleads consumers about the competency of the current food safety programs in place at USDA. Those programs have long been the global gold standard for food safety and today they continue to provide overlapping safeguards to ensure consumers are receiving wholesome and safe products.”

Articles like this play perfectly into the fake meat rhetoric. The petri-dish protein investors love to slam our industry at every turn in order to promote their frankenfoods.

READ: We have met the enemy, and it's fake meats

Whether it’s sustainability, animal welfare or antibiotic use, they claim to have the edge over traditionally-produced and slaughtered beef. So, I bet that soon, we’ll read threads from this article on their websites and in their press releases.

When you have to do business, sell newspapers or promote your alternative product by playing on people’s emotions and bashing another industry, that’s stooping pretty low, in my eyes. Beef can certainly stand the scrutiny of consumers, and I encourage producers to continue to be transparent in sharing their stories.

Despite the biased reporters and activists with agendas, cattle producers have an amazing story to share, and I think if we keep working hard at it, we can change consumer sentiments. However, we can’t let articles like this go unanswered. Shame on Consumer Reports for their faulty, biased reporting that does nothing more than incite fear and confusion in our consumers’ minds.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.

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