On the Inside
It’s interesting to see how mass media attacks production agriculture these days, yet Americans continue to enjoy safe, healthy food across the country. Large media outlets are consistently publishing articles targeting production practices that provide the food that consumers demand. I really wonder how many of them criticize their beef while enjoying a tender, juicy steak.
Personally, I know that production and harvest practices used in the industry are safe, efficient, effective and humane, but until a recent tour of JBS in Greeley, Colo., I had never seen firsthand the measures that are taken to really ensure a safe food product.
This past month, I was fortunate enough to visit the Greeley packing plant during the National Institute of Animal Agriculture conference, and it was a great experience.
According to their website, JBS is the largest animal protein company in the world, with 140 facilities worldwide that produce food, leather, pet products and biodiesel, and they routinely allow tours through their facilities to inform the industry and consumers alike about the plant’s operations.
First and foremost, if you haven’t had the opportunity to tour a packing plant, I highly encourage everyone to do so. It was one of the most educational and interesting experiences of my time at the Roundup.
After “suiting up” – including a hair net, hard hat, earplugs, smock, gloves, gators and rubber boots – we were allowed to tour nearly every area of the plant – from the kill floor to packaging stages.
At each entryway, the plant had a basin of sudsy water to disinfect boots, ensuring sanitation through the entire facility. I’m not sure what I expected entering a packing plant, but it was definitely not the clean, bright, nearly sterile facilities that I encountered. It was really quite impressive.
Our first stop was where the carcass is cut into edible pieces and packaged for shipping. Interestingly, the facility was also equipped with placards describing what each cut was, as well as where it came from. JBS really is consumer-friendly and wants people to know what is going on.
After seeing the finished product on its way to market, we walked to cold storage, where rows of cattle carcasses were being graded by a USDA inspector, and through to the beginning stages of cattle harvest.
The steamy room where cattle were first knocked, then bled, skinned and the insides are sorted through was pretty eye-opening, as well. I find it incredibly interesting that each phase of the process in carried out in one or two quick motions by a specialized, skilled individual.
As the offal is removed and waste products are shipped to the rendering facility, it really helped me to realize that every part of the animal is utilized in some way or another, and the process is super efficient to provide products to the consumer as quickly as possible.
I think at the end of the day it is so important to remember that many Americans’ only impression of a cattle-processing facility is that image portrayed by Upton Sinclair in The Jungle. As more and more people become curious about where their food comes from, it really matters that they get the right picture – not one from an early-1900s novel.