As a consumer, I like to know as much as possible about the food I buy, so I took it upon myself last year to investigate the meats available in grocery stores and shops in Springfield. I knew it wouldn’t be easy but I was unprepared for how hard it would be to get information on where the meat comes from and how it is produced. Although meat department employees were forthcoming when I asked questions as a consumer, some of them were unsure or confused about where the meat came from, partly because of our complicated system of food distribution. A food distributor called Supervalu owns the Shop ‘n Save stores, for instance, and also supplies County Market stores. A spokesman for Supervalu could not tell me what meats the company supplied a particular store. But I gathered from grocery employees that most of the beef and chicken in area grocery chains comes from Tyson. Several employees told me their beef comes from IBP, Iowa Beef Processors, which was bought by Tyson in 2001.
Information about the origins of our foods should be available to everyone. But secrecy seems to be ingrained in meat producers, and the government enables it by allowing them to sell products without labeling, as in the case of lean finely textured beef (called pink slime by critics), an additive to ground beef. Consumers too allow it to happen because they’d rather keep the slaughter process out of sight, out of mind. If things are to change, consumers will not only have to pay attention to how meat is produced, but demand their right to know about it. We saw the power of consumers to affect change in the uproar over pink slime last year, but industry bucks defeated a California proposition last fall that would have given consumers the right to know whether foods are genetically modified. More and more consumers will have to join the fight before openness becomes the rule in the meat industry. If you want to know more about where your meat comes from, read my full report here (or here on Kindle).