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Why is it Legal to Sell Unsafe Meat?

Most of the U.S. population suffers an acute diarrheal illness every year. According to a recent survey, most people correctly identified food as the most common source of infection, but fewer than half (45%) believed it legal for grocery stores to sell meat with food-poisoning bacteria on it. You can’t sell unsafe cars; you can’t sell unsafe toys; how could they possibly sell unsafe meat?

They do it by blaming the consumer. I quote one USDA poultry microbiologist in my 2-min. video Unsafe at Any Feed: “I think the consumer has the most responsibility but refuses to accept it,” he said. “Raw meats are not idiot-proof. They can be mishandled and when they are, it’s like handling a hand grenade. If you pull the pin, somebody’s going to get hurt.”

So it’s our fault if we get sick. That’s like a car company knowingly selling cars with faulty brakes and then blaming tragedies on parents for not putting their kids in rear-facing car seats. For more on the risks of handling fresh meat, see my 3-min. video Food Poisoning Bacteria Cross-Contamination.

Patricia Griffin, director of Epidemiological Research at the Centers for Disease Control responded famously to this kind of blame-the-victim attitude. “Is it reasonable,” she asked, ‘“that if a consumer under cooks a hamburger…their three-year-old dies?”

Some may question the wisdom of selling hand grenades in the supermarket in the first place. In Sweden, for example, it’s illegal to sell chicken contaminated with Salmonella, the leading cause of food poisoning deaths in the United States. It’s illegal to sell a product that could kill or cripple our children—what a concept! In my 4 min. video Fecal Bacteria Survey I feature an article in a meat industry trade publication that quotes an Alabama poultry science professor saying banning infected poultry is a “hard-handed” policy. He said: “The fact is that it’s too expensive not to sell salmonella-positive chicken….”

Can you imagine a toy manufacturer saying, “Sorry, we’d love to pull unsafe toys off the market but such a large percentage of our toys are hazardous that it would cost us too much”?

For other surveys on how much of the American meat supply is contaminated with fecal matter and foodborne pathogens see Fecal Contamination of Sushi, Fecal Residues on Chicken, Chicken Out of UTIs, U.S. Meat Supply Flying at Half Staph, and MRSA in U.S. Retail Meat. Salmonella-infected eggs also sicken more than 100,000 Americans every year (see Total Recall).

For questionable steps the meat industry is taking to mediate the threat see my videos Viral Meat Spray and Maggot Meat Spray. In Zero Tolerance to Acceptable Risk, the fish and chicken industries propose moving from a zero tolerance policy on certain dangerous foodborne pathogens to an “acceptable risk” policy given how widely contaminated their products are with potentially deadly fecal bacteria.

-Michael Greger, M.D.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

15 responses to “Why is it Legal to Sell Unsafe Meat?

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  1. I find the cavalier attitude of the USDA very distressing. Blaming the consumer for the results of consuming contaminated meat products is extremely irresponsible. The fixes that the USDA is considering aren’t very comforting either.
    This fecal contamination is a dangerous situation, and another very good reason to switch to a plant-strong diet along with all the positive ramifications for our health.

  2. I was watching a re-air of  a Charlie Rose Brain Series program last night and they were talking about Creutzfeldt-Jakob / Alzheimer’s/ Parkinsons / Huntington’s disease.  They were talking about PRIONS, with no mention of meat or Mad Cow Disease.  Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t that a huge omission of information?

  3. I’m vegan for ethical reasons so I tend to be apathetic towards what happens to people who eat meat.  They’ve made an irresponsible choice to eat meat in the first place for their health, the environment and the animals, so they should be prepared for consequences. 

  4. My name is Dr. Lester Castro Friedlander,BA,DVM. I am a Former USDA FSIS Veterinarian and USDA Veterinary Trainer of The Year. Last week USDA FSIS shut down Central Valley Meat Company in Hanford,California for violations of The Humane Slaughter Act.. Compassion Over Killing sent me this undercover video to comment on the Abuse and Suffering of the cows at this Federal Slaughter Plant. I have been a Veterinarian for  close to 32 years and I have reviewed undercover videos from many Animal Rghts and Welfare Organizations. This undercover video was the most horrific one that I have ever seen. Not only were these cows inhumanely treated but the video showed cows that were Sick,Debilitated and their udders were almost touching the ground. USDA Policy and Regulations states that only animals that are Healthy,have Nutritional Value and Disease Free should be slaughtered for Human Consumption.  When a USDA Veterinarian makes the decision to slaughter the animal for Human Consumption, He or She, should ask themselves, “Does this meet the Consumers Expectation.” These cows looked like they just came back from a war,can barely walk,lame,multiple swollen knee joints and udders barely touching the ground. According to Federal Regulations,Mastitis Elimination Cows have to be segregated in a USDA Suspect Pen,properly silver tagged in their ear,”USDA Suspect,” and the Veterinarian has to examine each cow,palpate the udders for heat,infection and temperature them. This was not done and these cows were sent into the slaughter facility for HUMAN CONSUMPTION. USDA downplayed this and said they would not recall the meat that was produced from these sick cows. This is the conflict that USADA is in; on one hand they are protecting Americas Agriculture and on the other hand they are protecting the American Consumer. USDA can not do both. the consumer looses out all the time. USDA should get out of the Meat and Poultry Inspection and it should be under a separate Consumer Agency without any ties to the Meat and Poultry Industry..

  5. Before I was a vegan, I had such an aversion for handling meat such as washing the meat, bleaching the sink and counters and scrubbing my hands in hot soapy water was a determining factor in me not wanting anything to do with animal products in my food.  I can only hope that people will consider the hazards of this industry for their own health and as Dr. Friedlander points out, the abuses to the animals and the lack of care in the meat industry should be enough for people to realize it is not worth paying people to raise animals and slaughter and package up these products for human consumption. 

    Dr. Greger’s work should definitely open peoples eyes to the dangers of consuming animals. 

  6. Hi Dr Gregor, first I am a huge fan of your website and utube videos. Thank you so much for all your work and effort to educate the public regarding nutrition and their health!

    This question isn’t relevant to unsafe meat but I couldn’t find this topic anywhere else. I have a histamine intolerance and rosacea which ironically is getting worse as I am transitioning my diet from animal foods, refined flours and sugar to unprocessed plant based foods. My triggers are about 90 percent of all fruits, some vegetables, and I  have the worst reactions to anything fermented including all vinegars and spices (though not herbs or onions), teas and chocolate. I can’t really avoid all of these foods and I am not willing to give up all the antioxidants so I usually have a red face but if I eat something I have a really strong reaction to, I will get raised bumps and acne on my face within hours. Also I have very dry eyes which I think is connected to the rosacea.   Eliminating meat from my diet was easy, dairy and eggs was and is much harder but the restrictions around histamine and vasodilaters feels impossible and my diet is so bland that it threatens to derail me often. I know you can’t give medical advice to my specific issues but are you aware of anything nutritionally that can improve histamine intolerances or rosacea including ocular? From what I have read so far it seems like these are autoimmune issues and the best thing I can do is to lower my overall infammation which I am trying to do. The only thing I have read about that might help is helmith therapy and I think my face would have to be falling off before I could stomach ;)  infesting myself with parasites. Anything information you have on this topic would be very much appreciated. Best Jennifer

  7. Foods refused in upscale stores are finding there way into the $1 stores across the country.  Chicken, steak, eggs, lunch meats, MSG-laden plastic particles blithely renamed cheese flavored product are foisted upon the pocket poor who see it as a way to “feed” their families; especially now that the $1 stores take Food Stamps.  It is horrifying the treachery being played on the American consumer.  RETRIBUTION COMES.

  8. So what about meat that is organic, grass-fed, and pasture-raised? Are those animals contaminated as well? I suppose I’m trying to isolate variables here. Basically, is meat *inherently* bacterial, or does it become so because of the horrible and disgusting conditions that animals are raised in for slaughter?
    I’d really like to see some scientific studies that compare the two.

    Can anyone chime in on this?


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