Aug 02, 2001
NUMBER 6300-04

Have you heard the story about the new type of chicken that is bred without bones? Or have you heard that if you drink soda with candy pop rocks your stomach will explode?
The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)
July 31, 2001

Have you heard the story about the new type of chicken that is bred without bones? Or have you heard that if you drink soda with candy pop rocks your stomach will explode?

These stories are just some of the great urban legends that circulate on the Internet and throughout our culture. Tall tales about how hot dogs are made and what they contain belong in the same category of urban legend.

On July 10, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sought to spread this urban legend among Virginians when it suggested in The Pilot that hot dogs contain a variety of unsavory ingredients ("Grilling that hot dog not so appetizing," by Paula Moore).

Spreading such folklore is not unusual for PETA. This radical group's goal is to ensure that Americans eat no food of animal origin - meat, poultry, fish, milk or dairy. PETA also opposes the wearing of leather. And these animal rights activists have said that if a cure for AIDS were discovered through animal testing, they would oppose it.

If you hold the view that animals and people are equal and if you seek radical changes in the way people eat, the clothes they wear and the medicines that are available to them, you have to take radical action - including distorting the truth - to achieve those goals.

I think it's safe to say that PETA members don't spend much time in hot dog plants. But I do. And so do U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors who oversee these plants every day to ensure that hot dogs are manufactured under the strictest rules and most rigorous inspection system anywhere in the world.

Here in the United States, hot dogs (and all meat and poultry) are subject to more intensive government oversight than other foods that typically comprise a vegetarian diet. Meat and poultry products are regulated by USDA, which employs about 8,000 meat inspectors. They are empowered to stop meat production if food safety rules are violated.

Fruits, vegetables and tofu products are regulated by a different government body, which sends inspectors to plants on average once a year, rather than every day.

The fact is, what you see on a hot dog label is what you will find in the product. Hot dogs are made from muscle meat (much like the meat you buy in your grocer's case), ice or water, spices, salt and curing ingredients.

Today's hot dogs do not typically contain variety meats like hearts or livers. Although variety meats are perfectly wholesome, they are not foods Americans commonly enjoy - so hot dog makers don't add them to products. If variety meats were included in hot dogs, USDA requires that packages say "with variety meats" and that the ingredient panels specify which variety meat is included.

And when you compare U.S. meat safety standards to others around the world, you'll find we set the world standard. For example, in the United States, we have a "zero tolerance" policy in place for Listeria monocytogenes on ready-to-eat meats. If Listeria is found on our products, we recall them.

Just as inspectors are in our plants ensuring compliance with food safety regulations, they also enforce a comprehensive set of animal welfare regulations that were written in 1958. Meat companies know that treating animals humanely is good for animals, makes the workplace safer, produces better meat products and is the right thing to do.

The meat industry is not a nameless, faceless machine, as PETA would have you believe. Rather, we are 450,000 people - including thousands of Virginians who work for many outstanding meat companies.

We produce food that 95 to 98 percent of Americans eat and that the surgeon general has said is an important part of a healthy balanced diet.

We have families we love and pets for whom we care.

We are deeply concerned about people's health and about livestock well-being. Those values translate into the products we sell.

Don't let PETA's tall tales shake your confidence in one of America's favorite foods. Your trust in our industry is well-placed, as is a healthy skepticism about this animal rights group and its outrageous and inaccurate rhetoric.

The fact is, the marketplace is full of food choices. We will fight diligently against those who seek to limit our customer's choices - and that is precisely what PETA seeks to do.
Janet Riley is vice president of public affairs at the American Meat Institute in Arlington. Reach her at info(AT)