“Where did ya’ get that burger?”

Photo: Rachel Kramer/NWF

Where does the beef in the classic American burger really come from? You won’t find out from the label.

New York Times journalist Michael Moss was awarded the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting this week for his investigation of food safety concerns from contamination in hamburger meat. Moss’ reporting brings to light some scary failings in federal regulation, and reinforces the urgent need for improved traceability in the sourcing of ground beef for sale in our schools, restaurants and grocery stores.

Moss’ reporting highlights an unpleasant reality–when we buy what we think is plain old ground beef , we have no way of knowing how many and which processing plants the ‘product’ went through on its way to our plates. Neither can we know which chemicals it was doused in to turn unsanitary trimmings into E. coli and salmonella-‘free’ “lean ground beef”.  And where do the cows come from, anyway?

Last year the U.S. was one of the world’s largest importers of Brazilian beef. Rainforest clearing for cattle is currently the #1 driver of deforestation in Brazil, with devastating impacts on biodiversity, indigenous communities, and our global climate system. Preventing new rainforest destrcution for pasture will only happen if consumers can make educated choices about where in Brazil the beef they buy comes from. And this is only possible with improved traceability.

We’re only beginning to understand how our inability to select for better beef can not only threaten public health, but also that of our planet’s forests. Moss’ Pulitzer-winning reporting exposes some of the less appetizing sources of the processed burgers we buy. Shouldn’t we have a right to choose the origins—and broader impacts—of our beef?

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