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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sometimes its all a matter of perspective.

Sometimes we forget just how good we have it here in the United States. I know I for one often take for granted just how simple and safe it is for us to eat. Pause for a minute and think about that. We can take a trip to a grocery store, pay a very reasonable price for meat or produce (as a nation we spend a smaller percentage of our disposable income on food than anyone else) and be almost 100% confident that we wont get sick.

For a project in my graduate program in Ag Economics, I have recently dove head first into learning about the way in which beef is consumed in China. I want to share with you a few things that I learned. I think you will agree that we have it pretty good.

  • Beef production is very unspecialized in China. What I mean by that is that the overwhelming majority of beef is raised "in the backyard" by household farmers. A typical Chinese farmer might own 1-3 cows whose primary role is for draft and trasnport.

  • Similarly, the majority of meat consumed in China is a product of backyard slaughter. Contrast that with our ultra-modern and ultra clean highly efficient harvesting facilities.

  • Since refrigeration is not widely available, especially in rural China, most beef is slaughtered, trasnported to a 'wet market,' sold and consumed all in a very short time span-usually less than a day. If beef has to be trasnported very far to get to the market, it's freshness may be compromised. No dry aged stuff there!

  • Wet markets are open air markets that are similar to what we would call Farmer's Markets. Retailers have a stall in which they sell their product. Hygeine is generally not a priority, at least relative to what we would expect in the US.

  • For beef being sold in these wet markets, no safety standards or quality assurance programs are in place. Often, cattle are not bled properly which damages the meat and leads to premature spoilage.

  • Chinese consumer's are condtioned to the lack of food safety standards. Since the burden of assuring food safety is placed upon the consumers, they place much higher emphasis on sensory attributes like smell, look and even feel. In our country, we trust that our food is safe therefore we concern ourselves with quality, packaging and branding.

  • Beef is ususally devoid of fat and extremely tough. Becasue of this, wet cooking methods like boiling or 'hot-pot' or used widely while roasting and grilling are rare.

These are just some of the issues that characterize beef consumption in China. I think this is strong evidence for the validity of our system. Some people seem to favor a food system based on locally grown products from small scale producers. China already has this system in place, and I can almost bet that if they had our income levels they would trade in their system for ours in a heartbeat. (Those who can afford to prefer to shop in modern supermarkets where meat may be more expensive, but is also more likely to be safer)

So the next time you hear of a large scale meat recall, don't be discouraged! That is just our system doing its job. The alternative is that you could be responsible for inspecting the food yourself.

1 comment:

  1. Great insight Casey. Sometimes we forget how fortunate we really are!



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