US beef recall: safety, cruelty and record size

Even in the world of giant beef recalls in the US this one stands out: 143 million pounds. This dwarfs (by a factor of four) the previous recall record of 35 million pounds, and as the AP report observes, amounts to two hamburgers for every man, woman and child in the United States. This one has an added twist: not just safety but animal cruelty:

The federal agency said the recall will affect beef products dating to February 1, 2006, that came from Chino [California]-based Westland/Hallmark Meat Co., which supplies meat to the federal school lunch program and to some major fast-food chains.

Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer said his department has evidence that Westland did not routinely contact its veterinarian when cattle became non-ambulatory after passing inspection, violating health regulations.

"Because the cattle did not receive complete and proper inspection, Food Safety and Inspection Service has determined them to be unfit for human food and the company is conducting a recall," Schafer said in a statement.

[snip]

Federal officials suspended operations at Westland/Hallmark after an undercover video surfaced showing crippled and sick animals being shoved with forklifts.

Authorities said the video showed workers kicking, shocking and otherwise abusing "downer" animals that were apparently too sick or injured to walk into the slaughterhouse. Some animals had water forced down their throats, San Bernardino County prosecutor Michael Ramos said. (AP via CNN)

It sounds like this has been going on for some time and was only stopped because of the video. Since the USDA has said that their inspectors are at the slaughterhouse "continuously," we don't know why this wasn't caught sooner. Or maybe we do. While the inspectors are USDA employees, their salary is paid by the slaughterhouse. At least that used to be the practice. Whatever is done now, they don't seem to be watching too closely. "Downer cattle" are supposed to be excluded from the food supply, not tortured into it. Why?

Federal regulations call for keeping downed cattle out of the food supply because they may pose a higher risk of contamination from E. coli, salmonella or mad cow disease because they typically wallow in feces and their immune systems are often weak.

USDA apparently has no idea how much product is "out there" or where it is. They now think most of it has probably been eaten. (See also USDA Q&A here). About 37 million pounds went into the School Lunch Program alone (150 school districts). The AP article mentions two fast food chains, Jack-in-the-Box and In-N-Out Burger as Hallmark customers, while McDonald's and Burger King are not (according to the companies, anyway).

The Bush administration, the Republicans (and some Democrats) in congress, and the meat industry are foes of government regulation. On principle. So I guess this is all right with them.

More like this

If you havenât heard yet, USDA has ordered the largest meat recall in U.S. history â 143 million pounds of beef from the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company. USDA officials believe that the meat distributed by the company poses little or no hazard to consumers, which is fortunate, because much…
In the LA Times, Victoria Kim follows up on the issue of USDA inspections related to the record-setting beef recall. The terrible practices caught on tape at the Hallmark slaughterhouse evidently occurred under the nose of USDA inspectors, and Kimâs article explains how this can happen:…
The Whole Foods chain is recalling fresh ground beef sold in several states between June 2 and August 6, 2008 after seven people in Massachusetts were sickened by E. coli 0157:H7 that was linked to the meat. Illnesses have also been reported in 11 other states, DC, and Canada. The meat came from…
First, a warning: the video below is very disturbing. It's footage of cows being prepared for slaughter at Hallmark Meat Processing. This video, which was surreptitiously shot by the Humane Society, led to the largest ever recall of beef - 134 million pounds - although most of the recalled meat has…

As I understand it, US slaughterhouses pay and manage their own in-house "inspectors".
As a result, very little cattle of meat is ever condemned as unfit.
Cattle that cannot walk out of the van is supposed to be rejected.
Beef carcasses that fall on the slaughterhouse floor are supposed to be condemned, not washed and hanged on the chain right back.

The video I saw on the news is an abomination. Company executives were shocked to see what had happened, and fired the employees responsible as soon as it was brought to their attention. They say.

Makes me even gladder that we are moving to the country. Now I can raise my own food.

Much of this beef has already been eaten.......by kids.....in schools. So, even if it did turn out that one or more of these downers were off their feet due to BSE, we won't know until years down the line when people get sick.

The Bush administration, the Republicans (and some Democrats) in congress, and the meat industry are foes of government regulation. On principle. So I guess this is all right with them.

This sort of thing would be happening regardless of who paid the inspectors. Government agencies do not magically become immune to the power of agrobusiness just because they're part of the State.

Was it the government who uncovered this corruption, or private organizations acting on their own initiative?

By Caledonian (not verified) on 19 Feb 2008 #permalink

This is just another example of who we are today. No surprises.

It was uncovered only because an employee took a video and distributed it online last week.

I got this from an article on Common Dreams (too lazy to link)

"{The} food safety system hobbled by not enough inspectors, inadequate detection technology, ineffective enforcement, and de facto industry control over sampling of food products for contamination have dangerously weakened federal food safety oversight."

You can say the same or similar about consumer products, drugs, financial, environmental, health, etc, issues. But people have been brainwashed into believing whats good for corporations are good for us. It ain't.

And we blame China for a little lead on our toys, at least our kids do not eat toys (and we forget the fact that American importers and retailers did not bother to have adequate testing programs).

So where is the outrage?. I guess it is OK so long as Big Brother says it is, and OUR corporations profit from it.

Now that you have eaten all but the last bite of that 2nd hamburger, you can turn it in I guess.

I just finished rereading "The Jungle" and comforted myself while reading it with the thought that things like this just don't happen anymore. So much for that.

Rhabdo: The interesting thing about The Jungle is how little it has to do with meatpacking, only one relatively short section. In fact it is one long soap opera about the perils of immigrant life in general and unfortunately many things aren't that much different today in that particular respect, including the extreme danger of working in a meatpacking house where there are few protections, the line is sped up, lots of sharp knives and injuries and workers afraid to report it because they are immigrants. I own a scarce first edition ("Sustainers Edition") of this book.

My great grandfather worked as a VP of the company mentioned in the book The Jungle. My father's family worked as the killers and meat packers. I am a vegetarian and so is my daughter.
This recall could be even worse then is mentioned in the news. Some of the meat that was recalled could have been spread even further since it might have been used with other ground beef and mixed together to make burger patties. There really is no telling how much meat should be recalled or how much has already been eaten.