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TUNED IN

'Meat' Serves Up Info to Chew On

April 18, 2002|SCOTT SANDELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Where's the beef been? You might not want to know, but your health could depend on it.

As tonight's "Frontline" documentary, "Modern Meat" (9 p.m., KCET; 10 p.m., KVCR), demonstrates, most cattle nowadays spend only their first six months grazing at home on the range. After that, they move to a feedlot, where up to 100,000 can be held until they are ready for high-speed slaughterhouses.

The consequences of this industrialization are manifold. In the meat producers' defense, to which this film rarely comes, beef is more plentiful and considerably cheaper than it was 30 years ago. An industry spokesman also says that corporate consolidation has allowed companies to invest more in technology to make beef safer.

But "Modern Meat" presents far greater evidence that the changes have done more harm than good. Mass herding promotes the passing of bacteria such as salmonella among cattle, food safety experts say. Speeding up the slaughtering process and mixing meat from potentially hundreds of cows for one burger have also increased the risk of contamination, they add.

As for new inspection regulations set forth in 1996, many of those interviewed call them essentially toothless. Perhaps most shocking, the government does not have the power to recall tainted meat.

Yet for all of the program's revelations, it tends to have a Chicken Little effect by overemphasizing critics' rhetoric rather than letting facts speak for themselves.

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