Did you know that between 10 and 20% of all meat consumed in the United States is imported? In the year 2011 beef importers brought in just over 2 billion pounds of beef. In addition there was nearly a billion pounds of pork imported into the U.S.
Most of these imports were in the form of livestock brought in from both Canada and Mexico. Why these two countries? Because it is often too expensive to import meat from greater distances due to the high costs of transportation and quarantine.
In recent years both beef importers and pork importers have seen a steady increase in their volume. Much of this has been due to changes within the American meat packing industry. Massive corporate consolidations have resulted in a more centralized approach.
It is good to know, however, the way beef is produced in Canada is very similar to the way it is produced in the United States. Both countries produce a high quality, grain-fed product.
Most Canadian beef is imported as live cattle which is then used for breeding, to produce dairy products, for feeding, or for immediate slaughter. When it comes to pork, almost all U.S. imports come from Canada.
Mexican beef is mostly imported as light feeder cattle brought in to fatten up, although some Mexican imports are slaughtered immediately.
Is imported meat safe? Yes. The FSIS, (Food Safety & Inspection Service), which is part of the United States Dept of Agriculture (USDA), ensures all meat, both local and imported, is safe and is both correctly packaged and labeled.
The FSIS inspects all raw meat and poultry sold in the United States, including all imported meat products.
It is true that certain states have their own inspection programs. These are set up to inspect meat raised, slaughtered and consumed within their boundaries. Federal law, however, dictates all state programs must be at least equal to the Federal program. If the Federal government finds a state is not maintaining the required high standard, the FSIS will assume the inspections and replace the state inspectors.
The FSIS continues to monitor meat products even after they leave inspected and approved meat processing plants.
The Federal inspection program was first set up during the early part of the 20th century. Since that time, the meat industry has seen significant changes. Back in the early part of the 20th century most meat was raised, slaughtered and consumed locally. Very little processing was done. When it was, it was normally just for products such as sausage and bacon.
Today, however, there are a wide variety of both meat and poultry products packaged and sold. Small, local slaughter houses have been replaced by massive, larger plants that employ highly sophisticated equipment. Meat is frequently shipped from these centralized processing centers to grocery stores and restaurants nationwide.
As a result, the FSIS has had to make changes in order to keep up. Today, inspectors are not just looking for animal diseases. They are also watching for chemical and microbiological contamination, requiring a much more sophisticated approach.
Are you concerned about the safety of meat from a beef importer? If so, hopefully these points will put your mind at rest.