by Patrick Appel
Just four companies slaughter 80 percent of cattle in the United States. (The meat-packing company involved in the current recall isn’t one of those big four, however.) And three companies control half of America’s chicken, according to Christopher Leonard’s new book The Meat Racket.
That industry concentration has, in turn, led to more meat being slaughtered and processed in larger, centralized facilities — since it’s more efficient that way. And that, in turn, can make it easier for contamination to spread more widely.
Lindsay Abrams also warns of the disease-spreading potential of modern-day slaughterhouses:
As thousands of cows pass through assembly lines, a single ceiling drip, to take one example, could contaminate large swaths of them in record time, and safety inspectors can have a hard time spotting a problem amid the chaos. Then, of course, there’s the poop: “These animals are all raised on factory farms now,” Leonard explained, “where they’re much more crowded than ever before. And chickens and cows literally live their whole lives standing on beds of manure and feces.” They enter the slaughterhouse already covered in fecal matter, upping the odds of contamination once they’re killed.
It’s not just your mass-produced, factory farmed meat that’s in danger, however. A full quarter of the cows slaughtered in Ranchero’s slaughterhouse, site of the 8.7 million pound recall [in February], came from small, local and sustainable ranchers who sold “niche” products like grass-fed and organic beef. Even mid-sized slaughterhouses are closing their doors, said Leonard, meaning those ranchers didn’t have much of a choice but to rent out space from a large facility that was also processing cattle for the big four meat companies. Once there, those animals, regardless of how responsibly they were raised, became a disease risk as well.