Introducing Beef Throat – The TFT Reader Investigation Continues…
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This weekend I tested out a suggestion from a reader-recommended source, about how to trace where private label meat comes from. On every package of meat, the USDA places a code that can be traced back to the source of the product. Unfortunately, in the case of private-label products, the code only gives you the location of the packing house, not the origin of the meat. Nonetheless, it’s a good first step in trying to figure out a question we raised in an earlier investigation post: Are organic dairies illegally pawning off old dairy cows as certified organic ground beef?
Our source is extremely knowledgeable about the meat industry, but since he’s still very much professionally involved, he prefers to remain anonymous. Which gives me no choice but to give him the best off-the-record, anonymous source name in the history of reporting: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Beef Throat.
“We know that every dairy is always going to sell their meat,” Beef Throat tells us. “And we know they just went through a large culling process in the organic milk business due to a dip in organic milk prices.”
But did those culled organic dairy cows — some of which could never qualify for organic meat status because they were not born organic — end up in your “organic” dinner?
Mark Kastel, of the watchdog group The Cornucopia Institute, has told us that if we can figure out which organic milk dairies are selling organic ground beef, he’ll be able to tell us whether they’re doing so illegally.
So, our next goal is to find out which organic dairies are selling organic meat. And Beef Throat has some good advice: “Every package of meat in the country needs to have a USDA bug on it, and from that you can trace precisely where any meat is coming from – you can gather who the manufacturer/processer is,” Beef Throat explains. “But then it’s the next part that’s tricky – where they’re sourcing it. There are traders in the middle and there’s so much inscrutiny there.”
“I think if you call up the packing houses, though, they might be inclined to tell you, especially if they know that if they don’t you’re going to write ‘I traced this beef to this packing house, but they wouldn’t tell me where they got it from,’” Beef Throat says.
As a first step, we’re buying and tracking packs of ground organic beef and tracing the USDA bug on the package – it’s a little decal at the bottom of any meat product, and we’re hoping you can help as well.
Once you’ve got the number, just go to Google or Scribd and type in USDA# and then the number. I tried it on a package of Trader Joe’s brand organic grass-fed beef and found it came from Culver City Meat Company, which is affiliated with Golden West Trading Company. My next step is to call them up to see if I can get them to tell me where their organic beef comes from.
So there you have it. I’ll be making a call to Culver City Meat Company this week and will report back on what I can find. In the meantime, I’ll also be tracing other packages of meat, and I hope you’ll give it a shot as well and share your findings.
(As a side note, it’s not just organic dairies that are selling off their older cows as ground beef. According to Beef Throat, the majority of ground beef on the market comes from dairies – “definitely at McDonalds and those sorts of places,” he says.)
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