A Tribute to American Beef

M.B.M.Y. Yunus

Below are some quotes from a book I've been reading--"Fast Food Nation:
The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (Houghton Mifflin 2001).  A New
York Times bestseller, it is well-researched and well-written.  If you
read one non-fiction non-Islamic book this year, it should be this one. 

I sincerely wish that Muslims in America would take time to learn about
what the meat industry in the US is really like, and not find comfort 
in the "ignorance is bliss" approach that seems to be so pervasive these
days.  Similarly, I've found that many Muslims from abroad are totally
clueless to the fact that meat from the US is very different than the
home-grown products they would find in the markets back home.  People
should realize that there is a bit more to the meat in America issue 
than simply debating whether one needs to say Bismillah while slaughtering.

Please do skim the quotes below.  And note that the examples are not
simply peculiarities...rather, they demonstrate the typical behavior of
how the US meatpacking industry operates, even today.  And this is 
where most of the meat in Safeway comes from: "Today the top four meatpacking
firms--ConAgra, IBP, Excel, and National Beef--slaughter about 84 
percent of the nation's cattle." p137


I've taken the time to slowly type the quotes below with my tiny, thin,
red and sore, two index fingers.  So please do at least skim them. OL

"The rise in grain prices has encouraged the feeding of less expensive
materials to cattle, especially substances with a high protein content
that accelerate growth.  About 75 percent of cattle in the United 
States were routinely fed livestock wastes -- the rendered remains of dead 
cattle -- until August of 1997.  They were also fed millions of dead cats and
dead dogs every year, purchased from animal shelters.  The FDA banned 
such practices after evidence from Great Britian suggested that they were
responsible for a widespread outbreak of bovine spongiform 
encephalopathy (BSE), also known as "mad cow disease."  Nevertheless, current FDA
regulations allow dead pigs and dead horses to be rendered into cattle
feed, along with dead poultry.  The regulations not only allow cattle 
to be fed dead poultry, they allow poultry to be fed dead cattle...

The waste products from poultry plants, including the sawdust and old
newspapers used as litter, are also being fed to cattle.  A study
published a few years ago in 'Preventative Medicine' notes that in
Arkansas alone, about 3 million pounds of chicken manure were fed to
cattle in 1994."


"The current high levels of ground beef contamination, combined with 
the even higher levels of poultry contamination, have led to some bizarre
findings.  A series of tests conducted by Charles Gerba, a 
microbiologist at the University of Arizona, discovered far more fecal bacteria in the
average American kitchen sink than on the average American toilet seat.
According to Gerba, 'You'd be better of eating a carrot stick that fell 
in your toilet than one that fell in your sink.'"


"One night I visit a slaughterhouse somewhere in the High Plains.  The
slaughterhouse is one of the nation's largest.  About five thousand 
head of cattle enter it everyday, single file, and leave in a different 
form. Someone who has access to the plant , who's upset by its working
conditions, offers to give me a tour...

On the kill floor, what I see no longer unfolds in a logical manner.
It's one strange image after another.  A worker with a power saw slices
cattle into halves as though they were two-by-fours, and then halves 
swing by me into the cooler.  It feels like a slaughterhouse now.  Dozens of
cattle, stripped of their skins, dangle on chains from their hind legs.
My host stops and asks how I feel, if I want to go any further.  This 
is where people get sick.  I feel fine, determined to see the whole 
process, the world that's been deliberately hidden.  The kill floor is hot and
humid.  It stinks of manure.  Cattle have a body temperature of about 
101 degrees, and there are a lot of them in the room.  Carcasses swing so 
fast along the rail that you have to keep an eye on them constantly, dodge
them, watch your step, or one will slam you and throw you onto the 
bloody concrete floor.  It happens to workers all the time.

I see: a man reach inside cattle and pull out their kidneys with his 
bare hands, then drop the kidneys down a metal chute, over and over again, 
as each animal passes by him; a stainless steel rack of tongues;  
Whizzards peeling meat of decapitated heads, picking them almost as clean as the
white skulls painted by Georgia O'Keefe.  We wade through blood that's
ankle deep and that pours down drains into huge vats below us.  As we
approach the start of the line, for the first time I hear the steady 
POP, POP, POP of live animals being stunned.

...We walk up a slippery metal stairway and reach a small platform, 
where the production line begins.  A man turns and smiles at me.  He wears
safety goggles and a hardhat.  His face is splattered with gray matter 
and blood.  He is the "knocker," the man who welcomes cattle into the
building.  Cattle walk down a narrow chute and pause in front of him,
blocked by a gate, and then he shoots them in the head with a captive 
bolt stunner -- a compressed-air gun attached to the ceiling by a long hose 


which fires a steel bolt that knocks the cattle unconscious...For eight
and a half hours, he just shoots.  As I stand there, he misses a few 
times and shoots the same animal twice.  As soon as the steer falls, a worker
grabs one of its hind legs, shackles it to a chain, and the chain lifts
the huge animal into the air.

I watch the knocker knock cattle for a couple of minutes.  The animals 
are powerful and imposing for one moment and then gone in an instant,
suspended from a rail, ready for carving.  A steer slips from its 
chain, falls to the ground, and gets its head caught in one end of a conveyor
belt.  The production line stops as workers struggle to free the steer,
stunned but alive, from the machinery.  I've seen enough."


"A 1983 investigation by NBC news said that the Cattle King Packing
Company -- at the time, the USDA's largest supplier of ground beef for
school lunches and a supplier to Wendy's -- routinely processed cattle
that were already dead before arriving at its plant, hid diseased 
cattle from inspectors, and mixed rotten meat that had been returned by 
customers into packages of hamburger meat.  Cattle King's facilities were 
infested with rats and cockroaches.  Rudy "Butch" Stanko, the owner of the 
company, was later tried and convicted for selling tainted meat to the federal
government.  He had been convicted earlier on similar charges.  That
earlier felony conviction had not prevented him from supplying 
one-quarter of the ground beef supplied to the USDA school lunch program."


"Knocker, Sticker, Shackler, Rumper, First Legger, Knuckle Dropper, 
Navel Boner, Splitter Top/Bottom Butt, Feed Kill Chain -- the names of job
assignments at a modern slaughterhouse convey some of the brutality
inherent in the work.  Meatpacking is now the most dangerous job in the
United States.  The injury rate in a slaughterhouse is about three 
times higher than the rate in a typical American factory.  Every year about 
one out of three meatpacking workers in this country -- roughly forty-three
thousand men and women -- suffer an injury or work-related illness that
require medical attention beyond first aid.  There is strong evidence 
that these numbers, compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 
underestimate the number of meatpacking injuries that occur."

And last but not least...


"...when a McDonald's opened in Kuwait, the line of cars waiting at the
drive through window extended for seven miles.  Around the same time, a
Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca 
set new sales records for the chain, earning $200,000 in a single week 
during Ramadaan, the Muslim holy month."


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