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15 Common Meat Myths That Need to be Crushed for Good

Meat: You love it and yet read so much false information online about it. Next time someone comes to you with these common meat myths, hit them back with the facts.

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1. Myth: Inspectors Rarely Visit Meat Plants

Fact: Few industries in America are regulated and inspected as comprehensively as meat and poultry plants. U.S. meat packing plants where livestock are handled and processed are inspected continuously. Large plants may have two dozen inspectors on site in a two-shift day. Plants that process meat or poultry, but do not handle live animals are inspected daily.

These inspectors have a wide range of authority. They may cite plants for non-compliance forcing changes in procedures; prevent the use of certain equipment; condemn meat products that they deem to be unsafe or mislabeled; seize and detain meat products; and withdraw inspectors from plants, which forces the plant to cease operating. A review of USDA records will show that they use their powers frequently.

2. Myth: Meat is Less Safe Today Than It was in the Past

Fact: Federal data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) document steep declines in bacteria on meat and poultry.

For example, the presence of E. coli O157:H7 in fresh ground beef declined by 85 percent since 2000 to approximately one-third of one percent of ground beef samples tested. That means that the pathogen will only be found in approximately 1 in 300 samples. Salmonella on fresh pork has declined by 63 percent since 2000 while Salmonella on chicken has declined by 21 percent since 2000.

An environmental pathogen called Listeria monocytogenes that can contaminate a range of protein foods has also declined markedly on ready-to-eat meat and poultry products. Between 2000 and 2009, L. monocytogenes declined 81 percent and now is found in less than one half of one percent of samples tested.

3. Myth: Meat is Full of Antibiotics and Other Drugs

Fact: Antibiotics sometimes used in livestock production – but never in meat production. Under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules, farmers and ranchers must wait a defined period to send animals to market if they have been given antibiotics or other medications. In meat and poultry plants, USDA inspectors sample carcasses and organs to ensure no residue violations are found – and they almost never are.

USDA randomly tests carcasses for residues of pesticides, contaminants and veterinary drugs including antibiotics. In 2011, it screened for 128 chemicals, and 99 percent of the tested carcasses were free of all of them.

4. Myth: Hormone Use in Beef Production is a Health Concern

Fact: Hormones like estrogen are used in modern beef production to increase the amount of beef that can be harvested from cattle. However, these hormones are the same as, or synthetic versions of those naturally produced by cattle. The estrogen that is used in beef production, for example, is used at levels that are a fraction of what is found in soybean oil, soybeans, eggs and what is produced by the human body.

Consider that a pound of soybean oil contains 900,000 nanograms of estrogen per pound. Compare that to 1.9 nanograms per pound found in beef produced using hormone implants and 1.7 nanograms per pound in non-implanted beef

5. Myth: Nitrite in Cured Meats is Linked to Diseases Like Cancer

Fact: The U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP), which is considered the "gold standard" in determining whether substances cause cancer, completed a multi-year study in which rats and mice were fed high levels of sodium nitrite. The study, finalized in 2000, found that nitrite was not associated with cancer. NTP maintains a list of chemicals found to be carcinogenic. Sodium nitrite is not on that list.

Not only does nitrite NOT cause cancer, scientists at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston have discovered that nitrite actually has health benefits. When nitrite’s safety was questioned in the 1970s, scientists had not yet discovered that the human body makes nitrite as part of its normal, healthy nitrogen cycle. While this is surprising to many people who for years have thought they should avoid dietary nitrite, study after study has shown that nitrite can help regulate blood pressure, prevent injury from a heart attack, promote would healing and much more.

6. Myth: Animal Welfare in Meat Plants is Not Monitored

Fact: Under the Humane Slaughter Act, all livestock must be treated humanely. They must be given water at all times, given feed if they are held at a plant for an extended period and they must be handled in a way that minimizes stress. Federal veterinarians monitor animal handling continually and may take a variety of actions — including shutting a plant down — for violations.

7. Myth: Grass Fed Beef is Safer and More Nutritious than Grain Fed Beef

Fact: Extensive research has shown that beef from grass-fed and corn-finished cattle is equally safe. While some unreliable online sources claim that grass-fed cattle have lower levels of E. coli O157:H7 in their intestines, studies show that the there is no difference in the prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in live animals fed a variety of diets. In fact, E. coli O157:H7 has been found in the gut of deer and they are never fed corn.

Grass-fed beef has slightly lower levels of saturated fat than corn fed beef. While grass-fed beef does have slightly higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than cattle finished on corn and grain, neither type of beef is a rich source of omega-3s compared to fish. Salmon, for example, contains 35 times more omega-3s than beef. Whether these differences translate to a truly meaningful health benefit in the context of a varied diet has not been established.

8. Myth: Household Ammonia is Used on Hamburgers

Fact: This inaccurate notion has been spread by some movies and TV personalities. Ammonia is naturally occurring, found in the human body, beef, other proteins, and virtually all foods. It plays an important role in the body’s nitrogen cycle and in helping the body synthesize the protein. It also maintains the pH level that the body needs.

One form of ammonia - ammonium hydroxide - is used in processing foods like baked goods, cheeses, chocolates and some beef products. This is not the same type of ammonia in household cleaners. It is classified as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is approved in most other countries, including the European Union. When used for meat processing, ammonium hydroxide creates an environment that is unfriendly to pathogenic bacteria, such as E. coli O157:H7 and provides a significant food safety benefit

9. Myth: Hot Dogs are Made From Everything But the Oink

Fact: In contrast to the popular saying, the process of making hot dogs is extremely clean and not particularly complicated. It starts with cuts of meat similar to what you find in your grocer’s case and with trimmings, small cuts of meat that result when the larger pieces are cut into steak. These are ground into small pieces and placed in a mixer. High speed, stainless steel choppers blend the meat, spices, ice chips and curing ingredients into an emulsion or batter. The mixture is continuously weighed to assure a proper balance of all ingredients. The mixture is then pumped into an automatic stuffer/linker machine, where it flows into casings.

While rumors suggest that hot dogs use “everything but the oink,” it is uncommon today for manufacturers to use variety meats – like hearts or livers -- hot dogs. When they are added, the package will clearly state “with byproducts” or "with variety meats." The particular variety meat used also will be listed in the ingredient statement.

10. Myth: Livestock Have a Greater Environmental Impact than Cars

Fact: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data show that all of agriculture contributes seven percent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions while livestock production accounts for three percent of greenhouse gas emissions. By contrast, transportation accounts for 26 percent.

Research at Washington State University, Cornell and other universities shows that beef production has evolved and, over time, has required fewer and fewer natural resources to raise the same wholesome products that help us continue to feed a growing global population.

11. Myth: Superbugs are Common on Meat Products

Fact: A true superbug is very rare in nature and even more uncommon on meat and poultry products. A superbug is a bacterium that will make you sick and is resistant to all antibiotics. Some recent reports have claimed finding superbugs on meat and poultry products by saying a bacteria found is resistant to at least one antibiotic, but by nature many bacteria are resistant to at least one antibiotic, but can easily be treated with other antibiotics.

The FDA has said that it is an oversimplification to say that resistance to any single antibiotic is a risk to human health.

Overall USDA sampling data show that bacteria on raw meat and poultry products are decreasing across the board - not increasing

12. Myth: Livestock are Aware and Afraid of Being Slaughtered

Fact: Based on research from leading animal welfare expert Temple Grandin and others, animals are unaware they are about to be slaughtered when arriving at a processing facility. Grandin notes that cattle will behave the same whether they are going into a veterinary chute on the farm or in a processing facility, a strong indication that they are unaware they are going to be slaughtered. Other research shows that pigs watching stunning and slaughter of another pig had little or no change in heart rate, cortisol or β-endorphin levels. When they are afraid, animals will back up or refuse to move forward. The most likely causes of agitation in processing facilities are distractions such as lighting problems, air blowing towards the animals, movement or high pitched noise.

A lone animal by itself in a chute may also become agitated because he is separated from his herd mates. That’s why it is important to handle animals in groups.

13. Myth: Meat Plants are Rarely Cleaned

Fact: Thorough cleaning of meat and poultry plants – from floors and walls to conveyor belts and grinders happens every single day meat plants are open.

The sanitation steps taken plants are similar to those a hospital would take to clean an operating room including taking apart each piece of machinery; scrubbing the equipment, ceilings and floors with foam cleansers; testing for microbes and USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspection and approval before a plant can reopen for business.

14. Myth: “Meat Glue” is Commonly Used to Create Steaks From Scraps

Fact: Transglutaminase is a protein that is used to bind ingredients together in many foods. In meat products, for example, it can help hold bacon around a filet mignon to create a bacon wrapped filet or it can help hold several smaller cuts together to make a larger cut that can be sliced.

Unfortunately, the clever nickname "meat glue" has made transglutaminase sound much more exciting that it is.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognized transglutaminase as safe and it has been safely used for many years. Canada, Australia and many of European countries also recognize this as a safe food processing aid. Transglutaminase is not classified as an allergen. Still, when it is used, it will appear on the ingredient label.

15. Myth: Americans Currently Consume Too Much Meat in Their Diet

Fact: The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends five to seven ounces of protein per day which includes meat, poultry, seafood and beans. Based on USDA data men currently eat 6.9 ounces and women 4.4 ounces of protein daily. This group is the only one consumed in the correct amount recommended by the Dietary Guidelines.

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