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As part of its annual food issue, the New York Times Magazine this Sunday has a long piece about the ongoing and long-lasting battle over transparency in the meat business.

An excerpt:

"When picking among shrink-wrapped packages in the meat aisle of your local grocery, it’s remarkable how little information you’re provided about the steak, pork chop or chicken breast inside. The label tells you the particular cut, its weight and the price per pound, but store brands almost never give even basic information about how that animal was raised. In December, Congress repealed its country-of-origin labeling requirements for beef and pork, so now meatpackers don’t identify where the animal came from. Beef commands a premium if it is labeled 'grass-fed' or 'naturally raised,' but the Department of Agriculture withdrew oversight of those terms in January and no longer verifies such claims.

"Even in cases where the U.S.D.A. does certify labels, the rules can be slippery. The term 'humanely raised,' for example, has no standard definition, and the U.S.D.A. does not conduct site visits to confirm enforcement for those approved to use the label.

"Amid such dwindling transparency and oversight, animal rights activists, once regarded as the radical fringe, have taken on a somewhat unlikely role as consumer watchdogs. Trading provocations (splattering fur-wearing models with fake blood) for middle-ground strategies ('Meatless Monday'), they are drawing the attention of not only shoppers concerned about humane animal handling but also food-safety advocates and environmental groups who worry about the ecological impact of large-scale meat production. The principal tool of this public-relations effort has been daring hidden-camera footage, released in slickly edited videos that aim to shock consumers about what really happens on the production line."

It is a fascinating piece, and you can read it in its entirety here.
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