File under: our food system is really screwed. Meat fraud is deceptive at best and dangerous at worst.
It’s become more and more obvious that our food system is pretty messed up, whether we’re talking about animal cruelty, and dangerous, dehumanizing working conditions, or the excessive use of antibiotics on farms that is rendering antibiotics essentially useless against infections.
Those ideas are pretty terrible, but if these facts are not enough to convince you to become a vegetarian, perhaps the following items will. I’ve been collecting these stories for months, so this is sort of a compilation of meat fraud horrors. I don’t care how much you like eating shrimp or beef or any other animal products– these stories prove that choosing to eat meat is simply delusional.
Learning about meat fraud is especially important if you have food allergies. Not knowing what food you are truly eating could be uncomfortable at best and deadly at worst.
Mystery Ingredients in Shrimp
I’m leading with this video, because in some ways it’s the most disgusting and most surprising. Many people don’t worry too much about eating shrimp, but this video may just change your mind.
This company willingly admits that they have no idea what they are injecting into the shrimp in order to defraud consumers. Could the mystery ingredient known as CMC contain seaweed? Gelatin? Gluten? Peanuts or tree nuts? If you’ve ever had a bad reaction to shrimp, perhaps this is why.
Saline-Infused Chicken: A Salty Scam
As if raw poultry wasn’t disgusting enough, footage from 2015 showed a chicken factory plumping up chickens with a needle, allegedly with water. Companies use saline solutions and other ‘enhancements’ to make raw chicken appear plumper and, of course, add more weight. You usually buy chicken by the pound, so that means some of what you’re paying for is the added water.
The Mirror UK writes that, “It is not illegal for supermarkets to use water-pumped chicken as long as it is declared in the ingredients – but restaurant customers have no such information.” Consumers Union has a great article about this practice from 2011. They write, “the US government estimates that consumers spend $2 billion per year buying salt water at chicken prices.”
Kobe Beef: You’re not eating what you ordered.
Not all meat fraud is dangerous. Sometimes, restaurants lie about what they’re serving, so they can charge premium prices. If you choose to spend the big bucks on fancy Kobe beef, most likely you’re being ripped off. The New York Post examines the issue of food fraud in their book review of Real Food, Fake Food by Larry Olmsted.
Author Maureen Callahan explains the beef issue: “Japan sells its rare Kobe beef to just three restaurants in the United States, and 212 Steakhouse is the only one in New York. That Kobe is probably Wagyu, a cheaper, passable cut.”
The Fishy Sushi Scam
The same New York Post meat fraud article reports that the seafood industry is just one big sham, and consumers are the losers. Olmsted, citing a 2012 study by Oceana, says that more than HALF of the seafood purchased and consumed in the US is NOT actually what you think it is.
“They discovered fakes at 58 percent of 81 stores sampled and at all of the 16 sushi restaurants studied, and this goes on throughout the United States. If you see the words ‘sushi grade’ or ‘sashimi grade’ on a menu, run. There are no official standards for use of the terms.” Callahan writes that, “Red snapper, by the way, is almost always fake — it’s probably tilefish or tilapia.” (Tilapia also doubles for catfish.)
Callahan goes on: “Your white tuna is something else altogether, probably escolar — known to experts as ‘the Ex-Lax fish’ for the gastrointestinal havoc it wreaks. Escolar is so toxic that it’s been banned in Japan for 40 years, but not in the US, where the profit motive dominates public safety. In fact, escolar is secretly one of the top-selling fish in America.” Read more about seafood fraud here in Mother Jones.
How to avoid meat fraud? Stop eating it!
I’ve written a lot about how our food system is totally broken: horrible conditions for animals and workers, ecological devastation of land, and bad health outcomes for eaters, but I think this might truly be one of the worst aspects of our food system’s issues. It’s fraudulent and potentially unsafe. That’s why it’s more important than EVER to know where your food comes from, and avoiding meat fraud and ‘enhanced’ foods is the first place to start.
Whole plant foods are a lot healthier and easier to identify. And they’re delicious. You can’t ‘infuse,’ mislabel, or disguise a head of broccoli. Take one home, marinate it, and bake it. Serve it up with some healthy beans or lentils. Whether you’re looking to improve your health, help reduce food sensitivities, or just be a smarter consumer, you can’t go wrong with eating more plants.