More Bad News For Beef

Apr 27, 2012 8:01 am

Mad Cow resurfaces, Burger King announces pledge

Burger King
Photo: ferret111 on Flickr
Burger King goes cage-free. Will more chains follow suit?
 

Yet again — to the certain dismay of the industry — beef is back in the news. Just after the pink slime hysteria has died down, Mad Cow disease makes a comeback. Perhaps more alarming, however, is the discovery of eyeless and eye socket-less shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico, possibly as a result of the BP oil spill. But the news isn’t all negative this week. On Wednesday, Burger King announced that it would pledge to have cage-free pork and eggs by 2017, making it the latest fast food chain to get on board with more humane livestock practices.

Mad Cow Disease
This week, the fourth case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, a.k.a. Mad Cow Disease) was discovered in a California dairy cow. The finding resulted in public alarm, but the USDA issued a statement assuring consumers that the cow’s meat never entered the food system and that BSE cannot be transmitted via milk. In a press release, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack emphasized that the discovery was a signal of the system working properly, not a reason for concern. He states, “The systems and safeguards in place to protect animal and human health worked as planned to identify this case quickly.” Mad Cow Disease caused a bit of hysteria in the '90s when an outbreak in Great Britain affected over 30,000 cows and sickened more than 150 people. Since then the numbers have dropped considerably, with only 29 cases worldwide in 2011.

Gulf Area Shrimp
It’s not only the beef industry that is combating negative press this week. Gulf of Mexico fisherman are reporting nightmarish deformities among fish, crab and shrimp that are turning up in their nets, and many are pointing at the 2010 BP oil spill as the cause. Darla Rooks, who has spent her life fishing in Louisiana, told Al Jazeera that she was seeing, "eyeless fish, and fish lacking even eye-sockets, and fish with lesions, fish without covers over their gills, and others with large pink masses hanging off their eyes and gills." BP maintains that the deformities are not definitively linked to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.

Burger King Goes Cage Free
Amidst news of eyeless shrimp and diseased cows, Burger King came out with a major announcement to go cage-free in the U.S. by 2017. Unlike McDonald’s, which made a similar announcement this year, Burger King put a definitive deadline on its pledge to buy gestation stall-free pork and cage-free eggs exclusively. The goal is an admirable one and the chain’s collaboration with the Humane Society could signify a major shift in fast food standards for eggs and meat. As Twilight Greenaway points out in an article for Grist, Burger King will no longer buy pork from animals raised in impossibly small gestation cages, but that does not necessitate that the pigs will be raised outside of CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations). Nonetheless, the move may have a major impact on the buying habits of Burger King’s competitors, which will ultimately benefit both animals and consumers.

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