Commentary: Wisdom from The Fool

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When the Center for Science in the Public Interest released its recent report “Risky Meat: A CSPI Field Guide to Meat & Poultry Safety,” they got a big-time dose of pushback in this space right here (see, “CSPI’s perverted pyramid,” April 25, 2013).

Not so much elsewhere in the media.

As part of its so-called expose, CSPI’s self-appointed nutritional gurus—notorious for their anti-meat posturing—had the gall to publish a “Risk Pyramid” that (allegedly) detailed the increasing risk that various meat and poultry products carried for consumers who had the audacity to eat animals foods.

The interesting part was the results of that analysis: Turns out that poultry, generally touted as so much healthier than beef, and sausage, widely panned for its nutritional negatives, were some of the safest products.

“To the chagrin of our nutritionists, ham, chicken nuggets and sausage were the lowest risk products,” CSPI spokesperson Sara Klein told the media when the report was released. “Turkey, which is far lower in ‘heart-damaging saturated fat,’ was deemed to be higher risk.”

That’s not the only criticism that CSPI is receiving in the wake of the report, though.

A story just this week on the investor website The Motley Fool (www.fool.com) expanded on why the CSPI report was misleading, at best.

“By the CSPI’s own admission, the number of food-borne outbreaks and illnesses reported to the Centers for Disease Control has plunged 40% over the past decade,” the story began. “While policy advocates contend it might have to do with budgetary constraints on the part of health agencies that collect data, CSPI . . . ends up making broad assumptions by extrapolating from only a small fraction of likely cases.”

Then, after that series of jabs, a straight right to the head.

“In fact, the U.S. meat industry is quite safe,” the article bluntly stated. “It is subject to multiple layers of regulation and inspection at the federal, state and local level. It’s not just health inspectors, but environmental regulators, too, all of whom oversee safety standards and processing, packaging, storage, distribution, advertising, labeling and export of product.”

More reasons to be wrong

One could stop right there if confirmation was needed that CSPI was over-reaching—again—in its never-ending efforts to paint meat production and processing as blights on the American landscape. But as the Motley Fool story noted, meat and poultry processors have spent billions over the past two decades in food-safety intervention technology and scientific systems to minimize the risks of microbial contamination.

And as the data show, that investment is paying off in terms of protecting the public.

That’s not all.

As the threat of another outbreak of avian flu from China spreading around the world continues to escalate, “The last thing the industry needs is an advocacy group raising yellow flags about the safety of its product,” the story stated.

More than two dozen people have reportedly been killed in China in the latest of avian flu outbreak that many public health authorities are calling the most lethal strain of the virus to date. The cause is widely believed to be contamination at several unregulated poultry “farms”—backyard flocks raised under primitive conditions, really—that are ubiquitous in China.

The U.S. poultry industry in contrast, has an enviable record of safety, and as The Motley Fool story noted, “Consumers should not fly the coop because of an alarmist report.”

And calling the Never-Met-a-Meat-Product-We-Didn’t-Hate antagonists at CSPI “alarmist” is being kinder and gentler than they deserve. 

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.


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