Commentary: CSPI’s perverted pyramid

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Remember playing that kid’s game, in which you look at a cartoon showing a fish reading a newspaper, a dog sleeping in a tree and a kid riding a bike in scuba gear and then try to figure out, “How many things can you find wrong with this picture?”

That’s the same question I’d ask about a recent headline appearing on the news blog Boston.com, a website run by the Boston Globe newspaper. The headline read: “Which meats are most likely to give you food poisoning?”

Not which food, which meat? And not which ones are riskiest if not handled properly, but which ones are going to give you food poisoning?

Like it’s inevitable.

I guess the people who earn a living raising livestock and producing meat products should be grateful it didn’t say, “most likely to kill you.”

Without even reading the actual article, you can safely assume from the slanted headline that the source of this “news” is an anti-industry activist group.

And you’d be right: The data—and an accompanying “Meat & Poultry Risk Pyramid” graphic—come courtesy of the do-gooders at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an organization whose partisans never met a meat product they didn’t hate.

The source of their scare story, which was swallowed intact by the blogger at Boston.com, is a publication called Risky Meat: A CSPI Field Guide to Meat & Poultry Safety.

“Meat and poultry foods are a significant part of the average American diet,” the introduction stated. “But they can also be linked to foodborne illnesses, ranging from inconvenient to deadly. Consumers should know which of their favorite foods carry the greatest risk.”

In other words, which ones will kill you?

The conclusion? Brace yourself, because this is a real revelation: Based on an analysis of 33,000 cases of foodborne illnesses, the geniuses at CSPI have concluded that the most dangerous foods are ground beef and chicken.

Which anyone willing to spend five minutes casually surfing USDA’s website could have figured out all on their own.

Perhaps more interesting is CSPI’s declaration that the products with the lowest risk are sausage and chicken nuggets. So, maybe it’s not chicken itself, but the fact that raw meat or poultry of any kind might be more likely to cause food poisoning?

Don’t hold your breath waiting for an answer to that query.

In fact, a CSPI spokesperson actually acknowledged the irony in their data.

“To the chagrin of our nutritionists, ham, chicken nuggets and sausage were the lowest risk products,” Sara Klein, CSPI spokesperson, told the Boston.com reporter. Turkey, which is far lower in “heart-damaging saturated fat,” was deemed to be higher risk, she said.

How horrible: To play it safe with food safety, consumers have to choose the products highest in “damaging” saturated fat.

When, I’d like to know, are the nation’s nutritionists—who ought to know better—going to let go of the “fat causes disease” obsession? It doesn’t, and they’re way past due.

Individually and collectively, we’ve cut down on the calories from fat that comprise the American diet. Yet obesity, and its consequent complications, such as diabetes and heart disease, continues to skyrocket.

Nutritionally speaking, fat may not be your best friend, but it sure isn’t your worst enemy.

In fairness to the rest of the “Risky Meat” report, CSPI does repeat the same cautionary tactics promoted for the last two decades by USDA: Cook meat thoroughly, don’t mix raw and cooked foods on the same plate or cutting board and wash all utensils in soap and hot water. CSPI helpfully adds that people should practice “defensive eating,” meaning not only taking sensible precautions to prevent cross-contamination, but actually wearing disposable gloves when handling raw foods.

Really? Now we have to cook defensively by wearing gloves in the kitchen? C’mon, what’s next? Wearing protection in the bed— oh, wait. We already do that, don’t we?

Nevertheless, the publication of a meat and poultry “Risk Pyramid” is a cheap-shot distortion of the food pyramid concept that’s supposed to provide upbeat guidance on the ideal diet. Not only that, but the implication from CSPI’s warped report is that, sooner or later, eating meat or poultry is going to kill you. That’s an absolutely egregious distortion of the facts.

You’re more likely to die from getting hit by lightning that you are from eating meat.

You can look it up.

Meanwhile, we can do without media bloggers so clueless they fall for scare stories from activists-with-an-agenda like CSPI.

Their food-safety fear mongering is about as substantive as a Scooby Doo adventure is “mysterious.”

Only theirs is lot less entertaining.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.


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Graybull    
Wyo  |  April, 25, 2013 at 07:03 PM

You don't have to go far.......your own cattle network.com published the story from CPSI just as it was fact.

Dan Murphy    
Everett, Wash.  |  April, 26, 2013 at 05:48 PM

But the story ran as an FYI for our audience, not as a source of new, factual information. It's just as important to track what anti-industry activists are saying and doing as it is to stay informed on what's happening in the business itself.


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