The Making of a Modern Plague; A Beef Protein Pumped into Chicken. Tainted Meat from 100s of Animals in a Single Burger. A Disturbing Book Warns of a Fast Food Plague Deadlier Than Aids .

By Hanlon, Michael | Daily Mail (London), May 21, 2001 | Go to article overview

The Making of a Modern Plague; A Beef Protein Pumped into Chicken. Tainted Meat from 100s of Animals in a Single Burger. A Disturbing Book Warns of a Fast Food Plague Deadlier Than Aids .


Hanlon, Michael, Daily Mail (London)


Byline: MICHAEL HANLON

A FEW months ago, driving from Arizona to California, I rolled into the town of Yuma, a dusty little place in the middle of the desert. Having been on the road all day - after a 12-hour flight - I was tired and hungry.

The first need was easily catered for: like just about everywhere in the States, Yuma has a scattering of motels.

Thirty minutes later and 30 dollars lighter, I headed out for a meal. And that was where the problems started. For, like just about everywhere in the States today outside the big cities, this little corner of California has become a culinary desert.

There are few restaurants as such - just a forest of neon signs advertising Wendy's, Taco Bell and Jack In The Box fast-food joints. If you do not want to eat baby food - deep-fried dough, reconstituted potatoes and mechanically recovered meat, served in a polystyrene tray with no cutlery in a brightly-lit room decorated like a nursery and booming with pop music, then you are out of luck.

The rise of the junk-food culture that has overwhelmed the U.S. and is now taking over the world is an astonishing tale - a saga of incredible business acumen, canny marketing and sheer home-grown American ingenuity.

The amazing history of the Big Mac and all the other culinary abominations is told in Eric Schlosser's startling new book, Fast Food Nation.

This is a tale of greed and misery, the quashing of individuality and the creation of a whole new mass-catering underclass of underpaid worker drones serving chemically enhanced comfort food to a generation that is double the weight of their parents.

Junk food, we learn, is just that. The fast-food firms proclaim that their products are wholesome and natural but Schlosser's research has uncovered a nightmare of unhygienic practices and chemical adulteration that left this reader vowing never to set foot in one of these outlets again.

Visiting one of the largest abattoirs in the U.S., owned by one of the big three meatpacking companies who supply the main fast-food chains, Schlosser discovered animal carcasses contaminated by slurry and faeces, and working practices that are both deadly for the (mostly immigrant) slaughterhouse workers and potentially lethal for the people who end up eating the meat.

THE AVERAGE hamburger contains meat from dozens or even hundreds of cattle.

The mass-scale mixing of animals and their flesh ensures that when infection occurs it spreads through the meat supply like wildfire - a phenomenon Schlosser likens to the spread of Aids through sexual promiscuity.

This explains why, despite the strictest hygiene laws in history, food poisoning caused by bacteria such as E. coli O157 is on the increase.

In 1993 700 people in the U.S. were hospitalised after eating hamburgers bought in Jack In The Box outlets in Washington state, California and Nevada, and four children died.

An American Department of Agriculture survey in 1996 found that over two-thirds of all the ground-meat samples it selected at random from a number of meat-processing plants were contaminated by micro-organisms found in faeces.

'That is the simple explanation for why eating a hamburger can now make you seriously ill,' Schlosser writes.

If you are lucky enough to avoid the germs, you will not be able to get away from the chemicals. In 1979 McDonald's, for example, started research into a new product - chicken that isn't chicken.

The scientists came up with a novel product: cubes of reconstituted meat from 'Mr McDonald' chickens bred to grow quickly and produce large quantities of flesh.

The 'meat' - in fact, a whiteish gloop - was held together with chemical stabilisers and injected with 'beef extract', breaded, deep-fried, frozen then reheated.

The result - the Chicken McNugget - contains twice as much fat as a hamburger and is one of the most popular fast-food products ever devised. …

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