If you buy hamburger meat to grill for the holiday weekend, take a look at the label. You may be surprised at what it doesn’t tell you.
There’s no way for a consumer to know where the meat in their hamburger comes from.
It’s not just that the information isn’t printed on the label. Very few producers grind meat from individual cows — it’s just too expensive. And at least for the foreseeable future, there’s no test scientists can run that can backtrace meat once it’s been ground.
Scientists can determine where an individual piece of meat comes from using a technique called isotope analysis, looking at the specific fingerprints of carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen atoms to see where a cow lived.
“But that has to be pure, it cannot be burger,” Mansour Samadpour, a scientist at IEH Laboratories who tests food products including hamburger meat, told Tech Insider.
And a hamburger isn’t just a mix of meat from a couple of cows who shared the same field.
Chances are good that the meat in your hamburger comes at least from a couple of different slaughterhouses across the US, if not from different countries.
That’s because hamburger makers target their mixes to hit specific ratios of lean and fatty meat. Individual cows don’t usually come in the ratios consumers want to buy, like 80% lean meat.
“The hamburger maker is looking for a precise amount of fat content,” Michael Moss, a journalist who wrote a Pulitzer Prize–winning piece on the meat industry, told Tech Insider. “They’re throwing pieces of meat in the grinding machine and keeping very careful track of the percentage of fat.”
In order to balance lean and fatty cuts and try to source the cheapest meat, hamburger makers don’t just rely on a network of American slaughterhouses, Mansour adds. They also use imported meat, particularly from Australia, New Zealand, and Uruguay.
Finish reading: You can’t tell where a hamburger is from – Tech Insider