She’s never at a loss for words when the subject is beef

For half a century, Rosemary Mucklow has been an ardent advocate of meat.

BERKELEY, Calif.

In the rolling hills above the San Francisco Bay, Rosemary Mucklow — the grande dame of the American meat industry — presides over a massive prime rib roast from Cargill, one of the four Big Beef packers.

At a small dinner party in her home just minutes from Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse, Berkeley’s temple to local organic food, Mucklow sings the praises of commodity beef and the companies that produce it.

“Even though Berkeley and meat don’t mix very well,” Mucklow admits, “I feel very much part of the scene here.”

Mucklow, at 80 the director emeritus of the North American Meat Association, is a high-energy cheerleader for American meat. She sports snow-white hair and has never lost her native Welsh accent.

And she’s here to prove that beef processed by Cargill is tasty and nutritious.

She complements the roast with rutabaga, fresh shelled peas and a lemon cake baked using a 100-year-old recipe from her native North Wales.

Between glasses of sherry, she regales her small dinner party with stories about her half-century advocating for and defending meat industry officials.

During a discussion once in Washington to develop new meat inspection rules, Mucklow spied a cockroach crawling across the table of the U.S. Department of Agriculture cafeteria.

She slammed the bug onto the table and walked it over to a top USDA official. The assembled meat plant owners suggested that, if the bug had been in one of their plants, the USDA would have closed it down by now.

Mucklow can be refreshingly candid about an industry whose members have not always played by the rules.

It was not the meat industry’s finest hour, she agrees, when beef processor Rudy Stanko Jr. was sentenced to prison some years ago for processing dead cattle for the school lunch program.

“Disgraceful and reprehensible,” she sniffs.

Later, she sends dinner guests upstairs to see her antique claw-foot bathtub which, she reveals, came from the home of a meat processor who went to prison for adding water to his hams.

“I will never help anybody to cheat,” she once told an interviewer. “I’m not a good person to come to if you’re wrong…my integrity is not for sale.”

As for the flavor of today’s meat, she said, “I get concerned that some of the meat products have lost the essential ‘good taste’ and new generations of young people, with little education in food preparation, may not have the appreciation for good food that I think I have.”

Still, some complain that Mucklow can be tone deaf about the industry at times.

At a hearing in Washington about meat-borne pathogens several years ago, Mucklow questioned whether all that many people had actually died from eating contaminated meat. She said she wanted to know where the bodies were buried.

Some at the hearing said there was an audible gasp — including from a group of mothers whose children had in fact died from eating E. coli-contaminated hamburgers.

Nancy Donley, president of STOP, the food safety organization which represented the group, said she’d be happy to tell Mucklow where the gravesites are adding: “ I don’t think it should be treated so flip as to say that you’d just like to know where the bodies are buried.”

Donley’s group was founded in Kansas City in the aftermath of the Jack in the Box E. coli epidemic in the early 1990s that killed four children and hospitalized 500 customers.

“The grief of any one family is overwhelming,” Mucklow later conceded. “But the statistics tell a different story, and I just think we need to put these things in perspective.”