modern meat
is your meat safe?
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photo of cutting meatjoin the discussion: Is America's meat supply safe enough? Are you worried about your next burger?


My husband and I watched your show "Modern Meat" last night with great interest. Thank you for an informative piece of investigative journalism.
As grassfed beef producers, we are a providing a product that is the exact opposite of "modern meat." Our cows live thier entire lives grazing on green grass, under blue skies and drinking clear water. They are given no hormones. Our use of antibiotics is limited: we use them only for therapuetic reasons when the calves are less than six months old so that there is no trace of the drugs by the time they're slaughtered. Calves that need them for longer are not included in our direct marketing program.
Beef of grassfed animals has also been proven to be more healthy for people. It is higher in essential Omega-3's, betacarotine and CLA. Our customers can purchase the beef knowing the animals have been treated well and have never been part of the feedlot system. It's a system that is healthy for the people, the animals and the land.
I would encourage anyone disturbed about the state of "modern meat" production to pursue alternatives. You can learn more about small, family farms such as ours at to find a grassfed producer in your area.

Julie Morris
T.O. Cattle Co.
San Juan Bautista, Ca.

Julie Morris
San Juan Bautista, California


I heard many arguments from industry types supporting irradiation of meat. There was gentleman, who said that
the FDA, the CDC, and WHO of the United Nations were convinced of its safety. Those opposed to irradiation were classified as consumers, grocery stores, and some beef processors. Surely there must have been some health physicists, biologists, and medical researchers, who are opposed to irradition of food. To just protray those opposed to food irraditon as irrationally fearful, and ignorant consumers does not give a balanced view of the irradiation issue.


Dave Hofer
Atlanta, Georgia

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

For more discussion on irradiation from the experts featured in "Modern Meat," see excerpts from their interviews in Is Your Meat Safe?


I think the American public earned a PhD during the Clinton administration in recognizing bovine scatology when they see it. Your Modern Meat segment was a typical representation of the blatantly biased reporting I associate with NPR and PBS. There may actually be some truth in your report but I immediately become suspicious when the opposing view is not given equal time. I equate this tactic as a very cleaver deception or disinformation.

How about giving an honest report with both sides of the issue? With honest reporting, you run the risk the public would not agree with your agenda but at least you could probably sleep better at night knowing your report was professional. As with most problems in this country, the truth is elusive and one needs to dig deep to find it.

Michael McCranie
Arlington, Texas


I watched the "Modern Meat" report with great interest, and although I agree that the meat industry needs a radical change, I was disappointed at the sensationalized slant that you gave the report.

I am not, in general, a meat-eater. My own philosophy is that it is not wrong to eat meat or to use animal-based products, but it is wrong to treat those animals cruelly or disrespectfully. So, as someone who recently moved from San Diego to the heart of cattle country in Colorado, I observe what my cattle-ranching neighbors do with great interest. I try to learn about what life is like for those cattle by watching them and talking to the people who raise them. I really want to know where things go wrong for these animals, and how we can create a better system that honors their purpose in life, which is to feed us.

So, I noticed two places in your report that made me feel that you were straying from the truth and into sensationalism. The first was the statement from the NY Times reporter that at six months every cow has seen its last blade of grass. Actually, most cattle, at least around here, live on pasture until they are about 18 months old before they are sold to the feedlot, where I believe they spend about 3 months before slaughter. Six month old cattle are a lot smaller than the ones you showed in the feedlot; those were pretty much full-grown animals.

Secondly, you talked to Mr. Lasater of the Lasater Ranch which is not too far from where I now live. Directly after his interview, you segued to the feedlot. I feel it does Mr. Lasater a grave disservice to have done that, when the Lasater ranch is one that actually raises and sells "grass finished beef directly off the prairie" who never spend time in the feedlot. This would have been a perfect opportunity for you to present an alternative source of beef that many of your viewers may be interested in buying.

These errors made me wonder which other facts you had presented with a sensationalistic skew, or skipped completely. I am more than willing to believe that many of the problems that you reported on are true; but I depend on PBS and shows like Frontline to give me the honest, complete facts on an issue so that I can understand well enough to make up my own mind. I am really disappointed to find that I can't depend even on Frontline to give me the truth.

I hope in the future you will work to make your reports factually complete and avoid sensationalism.

Sara Pehrsson
Yoder, CO


I was a bit surprised that no one thought to tap any of the High School Agriculture Teaching materials, i.e. Slaughterhouse technical films, that show graphically how a steer is processed. As a Substitute Teacher for a Texas school, I once had to show such a film as the class assignment for the day. I am a meat-eater, but, I did find it a greivous thing.

A few years back, I saw a P.E.T.A. Film that documented Man's inhumanity to pigs, I couldn't help but cry. I try to limit pork consumption now. I wish I didn't like meat, like when I was a child. All of this is just to say that-there is no easy answer. There are compassionate and intelligent people who do not wish to stop eating meat, but, believe that there can be a balance between industry, food safety and humane treatment of slaughter animals.

Lisa McGuire-Smith
Friendswood, Texas


I have had it with all the industry spokespeople and corporate shills we must endure these days. For J. Patrick Boyle to say, with a smile on his face, that salmonella on uncooked meat doesn't make it a bad burger or an unclean plant is absolutely incredulous. I equate that to someone saying the fact that they are a thief and a liar doesn't make them a bad person.

His attitude represents all that is wrong with capitalism. In recent years tobacco companies have taken a beating for their business practices; But, don't forget, these are all the same people. The product is irrelevant and so is the consumer. Cash flow is king and their only concern is the bottom line on a financial statement.

I've decided I will no longer eat meat since the people supplying it cannot be trusted with our safety and well-being. I know my decision won't save any animals from their torturous demise; But, at least I will not put any more nickles in the coffers of these conmen. They don't deserve my business so they won't get it. It's time we start taking appropriate action and stop rewarding reprehensible behavior.
I applaud Patsy McKee for trying to be a consciencious watchdog. Without people like her our fate is in the hands of the scoundrels. You didn't discuss the horrors the livestock endure; However, it was an enlightening report. Thank you.

Robert Suzor
Indain Orchard, MA


While your show was quite good, it did not address many extremely important points regarding the safety of meat,
and the practices of the meat industry in general:

You did not address the potential problems associated with meat hormones.

You did not address the affect of high fat meat diets and possibly the same hormones that can cause young girls to enter puberty at ridiculously
young ages.

You did not address how modern meat processing overseas has created and spread the extremely fatal Mad Cow Disease there are two cases in Florida right now.
Along the same lines, you did not report on how cows are being fed not only corn but also other cows, feathers, and other junk.

You did not address controversial and important legal cases, such as the McLibel case in England.

You did not address how companies are agressively marketing these low quality,
food-stuff products to innocent children in schools although you did discuss this in another episode on obesity, which you could have pointed out.

You did not mention the historical relationship between the meat and fast food industries and organized crime, as discussed in "Fast Food Nation".

You did not address how the European Union does not want our meat. Along the same lines, you did not mention how the food industries are fighting tooth and
nail to prevent consumers from knowing if meat has been irradiated, genetically modifed,
hormone modifed, and so on.

You did not report upon the illegal employment practices of the food industry, including the use of illegal aliens, the lack of safety and health benefits.

For those who claim the meat industry is so safe, let us remember that they have killed more people than Al Qaeda. What has taken them so long to regulate themselves? Why did they have to wait for so many children to die before
they would research food safety procedures? It seems to me that this industry has no respect for nature, life, their customers, their workers, or innocent children.

Charles Martin, PhD
Deerfield Beach, Florida


Thanks for the fine report. But I missed hearing anything about consumer responsibility. You reported that the average American eats three hamburgers a week. It is that sort of demand for cheap and plentiful beef that creates the awful conditions you investigated, not to mention the land and water use problems.

I'm not saying we have to become vegetarians, but I believe we can live happily and healthier by cutting back on our beef consumption. How about cutting back one hamburger a week? Be part of the solution, people!

Anne Dimock
Afton, Minnesota


Scientists are trying to engineer pigs that have no legs: the assumption is that, since they are so closely crowded together, in pens, by the thousands, they they cannot walk, let alone turn around, the animals have no need for feet anyway--unless it be to ambulate in the slaughterhouse, where they are forced, with electric prods and beatings with metal rods, to their death.
Unless these same mad scientists come up with a cow that has no gut and that cannot produce feces, there is no such thing as "safe meat."

To sustain killing fields on such a vast scale requires "shortcuts": animals are sometimes inadequately stunned and, hence, skinned, dismembered, and dumped into scalding tanks while still alive and fully conscious. I am also surprised that FRONTLINE made almost no mention of the unimaginable suffering that these animals go through and that they are sometimes covered with their own vomit and diarrhea--caused by their terror and fear.
Here are some testimonials about "routine" conditions from slaughterhouse workers:

I've seen beef still alive all along the line. I've seen them where they take the hide off and the cow is still mooing. And they're looking at us and they're sticking out their tongues. They make a "mmmmrrr" noise. It's a look like, "Don't do this to me...." You know, "You're cutting me alive!" They blink their eyes and they stare up at us like, "Help me!" I think it's cruel for the animals to be dying little by little while everybody's doing their various jobs on it.

All the workers can open the legs, the stomach, the neck, cut off the feet while the cow is breathing. It makes noise.

I've seem them take those electric prods and stick them in the cows' ears, their eyes, down their throat. They've prodded animals so much that they've gone down and wouldn't get back up....Or they stick them up the cows rectum and just hold it there to get it to move.

Pigs fare no better. Testimony from a USDA inspector:

I've seen the stunners put twenty to twenty-five holes in a hog's head trying to knock her out and she was still on her feet. Her head looked like Swiss cheese....Sometimes they'll use a .22 and shoot the hog through its eye. Or you might have to hit both eyes on the same hog.

Kamy Cunningham, Ph.D.
Las Vegas, Nevada


I found your program very interesting but your presentation of the beef industry was very lacking. We ,along with the vast majority of cattlemen wholeheartedly support a safe food supply and the efforts of many to make it so.

The American Meat Institute does not represent the "beef industry's " views in many areas ,from their position on country of origin labeling to packer ownership of livestock. It was also implied that all food borne illnesses are associated with beef. Such illnesses can be contracted from any food source such as fresh fruits and vegetables,fish,poultry and other meats.Is the livestock industry perfect? No, but the little guys out here like myself who produce a safe and nutritious product take the heat both financially and in the public eye.

Many parts of your story leaned to the sensational without stressing the point that we have the safest food supply in the world and that people as a whole live longer today than ever before because of it.

Leland Shipley


Why is it when a program focuses on the health and safety of the American consumer and their children which might effect the profits of a corporation, those involved with the corporation consider it a liberal attack of the media?

Thank you for your thoughtful program. Your own statistics highlight the severity of this situation: 325,000 hospitalization and 5000 deaths per year from food borne illnesses. Can we really rely on our Federal Government or the Meat and Dairy Industry to protect us? Does the meat and dairy industry really expect the American public to willingly eat irradiated meat that is contaminated with feeces? One thing your program did not addresss was the true suffering the animals experience during this food production process. Maybe this is why I stay away from animal products and buy organic foods.

Carol Merrick
Portland, OR


Excellent report, Frontline, albeit incomplete, in that the horrendous living and dying conditions that exist for slaughterhouse animals as a result of intensive factory farming methods were not addressed--which is a little like ignoring the elephant in the living room!

I'm a vegan for ethical, environmental, as well as health reasons, and, in fact, I can't think of a valid reason to consume animal products at all. What amazes me is that so many still do. And will continue to do so, even after watching your report, unfortunately.

I think it will take a major catastrophe, like an outbreak of mad cow or hoof and mouth, or many more people dying from E. coli or salmonella, or the final disappearance of the last rain forest, before people wake up to the fact that animal-based diets are deadly to the planet as well as to the humans living on it.

Please consider doing a show on animal cruelty in the factory farming industry. If PBS isn't brave enough to do it, who will?

Ardeth Baxter
Santa Fe, NewMexico


That was quite a story, and, I believe, long overdue! I'm just really glad I gave up eating meat a long time ago!

You are to be congratulated for presenting this information to the American public...I'm really tired of BIG BUSINESS and their duping, lying and manipulation in any way, shape or form that they think they can get away with!!!

lorraine dalby


As a beef producer and research scientist I applaud Frontline for Frontlines attempt to enlighten the public on food safety issues. The problems I have with the the issues raised in the story are as follows. As a researcher I can tell you that virtually all feedlot cattle have some level of E.coli O157:H7 in their intestinal tract. Even the cattle that are fed a hay or farage ration still posses some level. So the assumption that large concentrated feeding operations are the problem is not accuarate.

Which brings us to the issue of industrialization and concentration in the beef industry. While it is true that industialization and concentration have taken place, the beef industry is the least concentrated and industrialized of the meat industries. The Poultry and Swine industries are much more industialized and cancentrated. Both of these industries have Ecoli and Salmonella problems also. Why do you choose to single out the beef industry?

Lastly the statistics on food born illness and death in America are very general. In watching your program if one was not educated on the issue one may assume all food born illness and death come from beef or at least meat consumption. What you didn't tell the American people is that we don't have alot of good data on where these illnesses as a whole come from and that many of them may come from consumeing improperly produced, handled, and consumed fruits, lettuce, and vegetables. I wish that you would have consulted the agriculture side of the scientific community and told the complete story. That this it is a complicated issue, we don't have all the answers, and blaming industrialization and concentration may be misguided.

Jeffrey Folmer
Lincoln, NE


By focusing on the beef industry, last night's Frontline implies that most food related deaths are caused by beef. But the program was sadly lacking in data on this fundamental question. Of the 5000 food related deaths in the US per year what per cent is caused by disease versus allergy? Of the disease caused deaths, what is the split between beef, pork, poulrty, seafood, dairy, and other foods? Lastly, of the disease caused deaths from beef, what percent were caused by improper procedures at the packing/grinding plants, versus improper procedures in cooking the beef, versus disease pathogens brought into the picture on the hands of the person eating the beef. The additional information on this website also does not really address these fundamental questions. I suspect that even though your program seemed to point the finger of blame at the beef packing/processing plants, a vast majority of the blame lies elsewhere.

Rich Rosen
Austin, TX

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

The numbers on food-borne illness cited in "Modern Meat" are based on the most accurate statistics available from the Centers for Disease Control CDC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture USDA. Neither the CDC nor the USDA provides statistics breaking down cases of food-borne illness by their source, but as reported in "Modern Meat," it is estimated that at least one third of the 5,000 deaths caused by food-borne illnesses each year can be attributed to meat and poultry.


After reading the discussion page I feel most are missing the point. The point is the meat you are eating is not as safe as people think it is.

I have been and still am a USDA inspector for the last
24 years I'm now a GS-9 inspector at 3 poultry plants.
Everyday I see chicken dropped on floors where pallet jacks that have been outside on parking lots picked up and washed with plain water and allowed to be passed as acceptable. I have seen the roof leaking allowing rain water to fall on exposed product be washed and passed as acceptable. I have seen heating units blow dust and rust in from the outside onto a fully cooked product and when I called the Tech. Center all I got was "ask the plant if they think its a food safety hazzard."

In the plants I'm in I can no longer condemn
product, I have to let the plant say what is to be done
to the product. I can put it on hold and keep it on hold till it go's bad but by then the plant has called someone over me and they say let them wash it. Like
the ex-inspector in your program I have high ratings
and have like doing my job but since HACCP has come on
board I don't know what my job is. I speak with other
inspectors and they feel the same way. It's better not to write N/Rs and find there is no one to back you up.

Do you know that plants run for 19 hours a day with meat, fat, and blood drying on belts and lines to where when you pick up the meat it almost looks like jerky, it's that dry. USDA tells you on the USDA web page not to leave your meat out on the counter or table but they allow meat to set on lines up to 19 hrs. a day.

Before HACCP plants had to do mid-shift wash downs if
rooms were above 55 degrees, now rooms are 70 degrees
and product is never removed and line washed I have found meat that is 83 degrees and all they do is put ice on it to bring the temp. back down to 40 degrees but no one knows how long that pice of meat was there.

I think if plants are going to salvage meat from floors
they should have to put a statement on the labels that
meat had been salvaged from floors where employees have been steping over product for up to 15 min. and washed in plain tap water. But plant knows if they had to do this people would not buy their product.

Well I could go on and on about the short comings of HACCP but in closing I will say my problem is not with the plants it's with USDA the plants do what we allow them to, and that USDA SEAL that ment something once
means nonthing now.

Michael Davis
Rogers , Ar


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