Journalism in the Public Interest

The Best, Most Disgusting Reporting on Food Safety

Because really — what could be more important than the food on your plate?

(Getty file photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The recent brouhaha over pink slime (and other lovely mass meat production processes) is only the beginning. Here’s our roundup of some standout reporting about the food on your plate.

This is a multifaceted, perennial topic. If you think we missed any, we’re happy to hear suggestions. Please email a link to or tweet it with the hashtag #muckreads.

Safety of Beef Processing Method Is Questioned, The New York Times, December 2009
A look at the development of Beef Product Inc.’s “novel” method of meat production that later became known as the infamous "pink slime." Reporter Michael Moss won a Pulitzer Prize for his investigations into contaminated beef.


Our Dwindling Food Variety, National Geographic, July 2011
Our dwindling food variety, in a stride-stopping infographic.
Contributed by @kleinmatic


What the USDA Doesn't Want You to Know About Antibiotics and Factory Farms, Mother Jones, July 2011
The U.S. Department of Agriculture appears to have repeatedly removed a report by a USDA-contracted researcher that summarized recent academic work, from “reputed, scientific, peer-reviewed, and scholarly journals," on possible links between antibiotic-resistant infections and factory farm animals. Mother Jones got a permanent PDF of the researcher’s report, dubbing it the “document the USDA doesn’t want you to see.”
Contributed by @foodinteg


Asian Honey, Banned in Europe, Is Flooding U.S. Grocery Shelves, Food Safety News, August 2011

Some of the biggest U.S. honey packers knowingly bought honey of questionable quality so they could sell it on the cheap. Much of it was likely smuggled from China (honey the European Union has banned) and may have been laced with lead and illegal animal antibiotics — if it was really honey at all.


America's Dangerous Food-Safety System, The Daily Beast/ Newsweek, September 2011
A shortage of inspectors in the U.S. food-safety system exposes Americans to the risk of illness and death.
Contributed by @StepShep


Nation's Food Anti-terror Plans Costly, Unwieldy, Associated Press, September 2011
An AP investigation into the United States' $3.4 billion food counter-terrorism program found that progress had been slowed by a complex web of bureaucracy.
Contributed by @joannalin


On The Menu, But Not On Your Plate, Boston Globe, October 2011
A Globe-organized DNA test revealed scores of mislabeled fish in Massachusetts restaurants, grocery stores and seafood markets. Often, “local” fish was actually hauled from thousands of miles away, and while some chefs and store owners seemed to have no clue, others admitted to knowingly selling mislabeled food to boost profits. Experts said it reflects a nationwide trend that causes diners to unwittingly overpay, may make people sick and results in overfishing.

Contributed by @JoeYerardi


Dispute Over Drug in Feed Limiting U.S. Meat Exports, MSNBC, January 2012
The controversial drug ractopamine has sickened or killed more pigs than any other livestock drug on the market, leading the EU and China, which together produce and consume about 70 percent of the world’s pork, to refuse meat imports raised on the additive. The U.S. pork industry wants to change their minds.
Contributed by @NaomiStarkman


How Washington Went Soft on Child Obesity, Reuters, April 2012
The food and beverage industries have more than doubled their spending on lobbying in Washington in the last three years. And now Congress has declared pizza a vegetable.
Contributed by @mariancw


A History of FDA Inaction on Animal Antibiotics, ProPublica, April 2012
Everything you ever wanted to know about the Food and Drug Administration’s actions, or lack thereof, to keep antibiotics out of your food.


As Beef Cattle Become Behemoths, Who Are Animal Scientists Serving? The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 2012
A growing number of animal scientists employed by public universities are accepting payouts from pharmaceutical companies. They’re often hired to persuade farmers to use antibiotics that fatten up cattle but haven’t necessarily been proven safe. Some have been banned in the E.U. and China.
Contributed by @MelodyPetersen


Bonus points: In 1968, Nathan Kotz of the Des Moines Register and Minneapolis Tribune won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on unsanitary conditions in meat packing plants, which, according to the Pulitzer site, helped ensure passage of the Federal Wholesome Meat Act of 1967. Anybody have an online copy?

Read “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair?  This has been going on for decades.

"Papa" Maury Clark

May 7, 2012, 8:50 p.m.

I just returned from two months in South Sudan, caught Malaria, and became weary of more than a thousand deaths every week courtesy of the Hitler of Africa- Omar Hassan al Bashir. But your summary of food in America makes me long to return to a safer environment in South Sudan.

Papa Maury Clark

I searched for a while and couldn’t even find a title!

Savannah - Thanks for looking!

amicus curiae

May 9, 2012, 4:22 a.m.

isnt it UNfunny how the times change but the food industry doesn’t?
way back Upton Sinclair wrote
The Jungle
in truth while some human work standards were raised, barely,
the animals health/ treatment /food..etc really have’nt.
the CAFO of now is worse than the rangefed from many many decades past..back then it was bad handling transport and processing that was the its from birth onwards. and all species inc farmed fish get the antibiotics and chem treatments…for OUR???safety they say.
Russia didnt want to buy USA chicken due to its being dipped in Bleach to kill salmonella ecoli. and boy did the us trade boys howl..
us checkig of BSE cows is down to some 9k in a kill of millions, and only checks downers. they can be carrying well before they go down.
imports of argentinian and canadian all mixed in and Canada doesnt want COOL labels, wonder why not??
Buy Local, grow your own where you can , and read the damn labels!

Also read “No More Bull;  The Mad Cowboy Targets Worst Enemy…Our Diets.  by Howard F. Lyman

In the mid-1990’s, Mr. Lyman, was the guest of Oprah Winfrey…who was subsequently accused of slandering the cattle industry by the Texas Cattlrman’s Association, and found innocent in a highly publisized trial in Texas that lasted nearly two weeks.  Oprah’s on-air remarks were prompted by her guest Lyman’s comments about meat industry practices of injecting growth chemicals, feeding cattle the ground up remains of other cattle and the onset of mad cow disease in America’s beef cattle herds.

I found some stuff on Nick Kotz. Looks like the source material is possibly available online. Here is the reference in a newspaper to his winning the Pulitzer via a series of articles he did in the Des Moines Register.,998938

Nick’s info appears directly below the picture for John S. Knight. That led me to a clickapalooza, and I was able to find a website that has tons of newsprint available to be searched. The article I found:

It specifically mentions the meat packing industry but much of the features available, like viewing full screen, are part of their paid subscriber perks. The specific article I found is titled: “650 Packing Plants Close Under ‘67 Act”

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