Industry responds to newspaper profile of beef ops

by Meat&Poultry Staff
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City (Mo.) Star released an extended report on the beef industry, casting a less-than-flattering eye on industry production practices such as blade tenderization and antibiotics use.

Mike McGraw, projects reporter for The Star, led the reporting of the series, called Beef’s Raw Edges. Two installments of the series ran Dec. 9 and Dec. 10. The first installment took aim at mechanical tenderization, claiming that the practice exposes Americans to a higher risk of E. coli infection. The story includes interviews with victims allegedly sickened by mechanically tenderized beef in addition to responses from industry.

The second installment, titled “Building bigger cattle: An industry overdose”, claims that children injured during a massive tornado that struck Joplin, Mo. in May 2011 suffered from antibiotic resistant infections caused by dirt and debris blown into their wounds. Doctors in the story blamed overuse of antibiotics in livestock.

Companies that participated in the series include Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods, Inc., Cargill Meat Solutions, Wichita, Kan., National Beef, Kansas City, Mo. and JBS USA, Greeley, Col.

Mike Martin, a spokesman for Cargill, said the company was reserving comment until publication of all three installments of the series. Tyson officials referred Meat&Poultry to the American Meat Institute and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Reporters for the report traveled to seven states, conducted hundreds of interviews and gathered thousands of pages of state and federal documents procured through open records requests, according to a description of how the series was reported that was posted to the newspaper’s web site.

Harvest Public Media was identified as contributing information for the series. Harvest is a non-profit media organization launched in 2010 with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It is based at KCUR Kansas City Public Media.

In a statement, J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute, called the series “a huge disappointment”.

“Nine months ago, we were asked to participate in an in-depth story for the Kansas City Star about the beef industry,” Boyle said. “We were told that the paper would examine the industry through the eyes of four beef packers. The industry has recognized the need to communicate and to be more transparent. That’s exactly what we all did.”

“By our count, reporter Mike McGraw benefitted from visits to two large packing plants, at least one feedlot and a processing plant,” Boyle continued. “He was allowed to bring cameras. This was truly unprecedented access to the industry and its operations. Industry executives provided countless interviews. AMI did its best to answer any question posed and even plotted charts when asked for additional data presented in ways that we didn’t have readily available. Our colleagues at other associations responded similarly.

“We believed that by cooperating, he would see what we saw: a beef industry that provides the safest and most affordable beef supply in the world. We know that we cannot rest on the progress achieved and must always strive to do better, but we find it impossible to reconcile the conclusions reached by the Star with data from data from CDC, FSIS, OSHA and other agencies.

“The end result was a huge disappointment. Perhaps the most telling aspect in the series is his pejorative use of the term Big Beef (capitalized) throughout the pieces and his references to Big Government (also capitalized). Use of these phrases betrays an underlying bias in the reporting.”

Boyle said AMI remains committed to the organization’s original perspective when AMI agreed to help with the series: “the US beef industry truly is a modern miracle, a national treasure and a global resource. The Star’s failure to recognize that fact reflects poorly not on us, but on them.”

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