Fast-Food Nation: Is the meat-processing industry in Europe like in the states?

I’ve been reading Fast Food Nation and I’ve just gotten through the horrendous business of meat-processing plants* and I’m going to do my best to not eat any meat that came out of a huge plant somewhere across the nation (no, I haven’t been home yet to find exactly where the meat at my grocery store comes from).

Anyhoo, I’m living in Europe, and I’m wondering if meat-processing plants are as inhumane/unsanitary/etc. as those in the states.
*Anyone who’s read the book and would like to refute or add to certain claims about the meat-packing industry are welcome…

I should have mentioned this because I’ve been living in Europe for the last year.

They are largely the same. And yes, the meat in your grocery store comes from the same places as the meat in your Big Mac. Cow is cow.

“Anyhoo, I’m living in Europe, and I’m wondering if meat-processing plants are as inhumane/unsanitary/etc. as those in the states.”

I question your assumptions. Meat plants in the US have to be sanitary and humane (by meat industry standards) to do well. They are no different than any other business and they are inspected. I worked in management for large supermarket chains and they want no part of something that will cause controversy. Their large customers like supermarkets and fast food chains tour plants to see what is going on. They don’t want some e. coli or other scare hurting their business. Granted, the nature of the business makes it seem unappealing. The plant is generally managed and cleaned as well as it can be for that business. Farmers and ranchers bring their cows to market. The plant uses a bolt gun or regular rifle to bring the animals down instantly. The meat is processed into edible meat and the remains are rendered into components that will go into things like soap, pet food, and others. That is it. It is just like any other assembly line except the end-products are more closely inspected. The animals themselves spent the vast majority of their life being raised on farms that are independent of the final step and these people have lots at stake as well.

My wife’s family owns a corporation that is a major US importer of European meat and dairy products. They were laughing this week because they found an excellent water buffalo mozzarella that is made in Los Angeles as in the water buffalo are in a warehouse in Los Angles itself. People were asking about the humanness of that and the response was that is how water buffalo are kept in Italy to make cheese.

Europe has everything from warehoused cattle to foie gras force fed fattened geese. The FDA is very strict and will ban anyone or anything that makes food products at the drop of a hat. My wife’s family struggles with their suspicions about imported foods every day. I see the U.S. as a leader in that regard.

Here is how foie gras is made in Europe. Isolated example of “abuse” aren’t good enough for firm conclusions.

First of all, when I said humaneness, I actually meant for the people working in the factories who have to clean blood vats with chlorine spray and nothing but a paper mask (instead of full body covering and a heavy duty mask), who regularly – it seems – cut or injure limbs, who are often illegal immigrants, who are forced to go back to work after serious injuries only after a couple of days, etc.

I wasn’t talking about whether it’s humane to the animals, because I’m just going to eat them.

In the book, Schlosser also talks about how regulations that have made it difficult for OSHA to inspect many of these plants.

As far as sanitation goes, I’m still reading that part, but the author states that meat plants systematically refused “any further regulation of their food safety practices.” He then goes on to present reports from the CDC and the USDA about diseases/microbes in the meat and the fact that “78.6 percent of the ground beef contained microbes that are spread primarily by fecal material,” which he concludes by saying, “There’s shit in the meat.”

Is this an exaggeration? Is “fecal material” always going to be in the meat we eat?

I know the answer to this question because I took a class with a professor with a microbiologist who once worked on bacterial checks for meat plants. He ask us what percentage of beef had e. coli (fecal matter bacteria) in it coming out of the plant. After students answered anywhere from .1% to 50% he announced the the real answer is 100% and always will be 100%. It is a tiny bacterium and there will always be some in every meat sample because contaminated meat leaves just a little for the other meat passing through to pick up trace amounts. Likewise, you will usually have some on yourself from tiny bits of fecal matter that you get from yourself or from bathrooms. Your toothbrush will most likely test positive for fecal matter. It is the level that matters for safety. To believe otherwise is just fear-mongering, ignorance about the subject, and paranoia worthy of an evening news special report. The only meaningful comparison would be to compare bacterial levels between the U.S. and Europe.

Again, I can’t give you the facts for every situation but it extremely common for meat and dairy products to get refused at the docks because of FDA standards violations and destroyed before it can reach U.S. consumers.

Thanks, Shagnasty. That’s reassuring…

If you ever read the book, post again to this thread if you will. I’d like to know what you think about it (since I don’t have the time or the will to post all of the authors information concerning meat processing in America).

Well of course it must be true then. Shagnasty said so.

I read it a few years back. At the time people were swearing up and down that they’d never eat fast food again because of the descriptions in the book. With that in mind I kept waiting and waiting for the extreme gross out that never came. No matter how you slice it the meat industry is about animals being killed and transformed in to various shapes and it seemed to me they were doing a decent job of it. I’m now reading The Jungle by Upton Sinclair; I suspect it will some depictions of the meat industry that may put me off fast food for a while

Well, I only buy Irish meat and poultry, and only from my local butcher, so it has to have come from somewhere within a 300mile radius of me!

Bord Bia is very big on traceability and quality assurance.

I’m not shagnasty but I believe the book would have been more persuasive if it wasn’t so carefully worded & hadn’t spent so much time implying rather than stating (e.g., bringing in the KKK).