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The Largest Beef Recall in History

On Sunday a California meat company issued the largest beef recall in history.  This recall by Westland-Hallmark Meat Company in Chino, California comes after an undercover video by the Humane Society was distributed.  The video shows workers kicking, shocking, and pushing crippled and sick animals with forklifts. Some animals that were unable to stand even had water sprayed down their noses.  You can see this video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OjhPVL48Ks&NR=1  and at https://community.hsus.org/campaign/CA_2008_investigation?qp_source=gaba89.

This certainly has been the age of beef recalls; each one seems to be bigger than those prior.  The Topps recall this year was huge but this current recall of 143 million pounds is the largest in history.  It is 4 times bigger than the previous record of 35 million pounds by Thorn Apple Valley in 1999.  Contamination of our food supply by E.coli 0157:H7 (the deadly pathogenic form) or salmonella have been in the news all year and certainly a source of concern.  There were 21 recalls due to E.coli 0157:H7 last year which in itself is significantly higher than the 8 in 2006 and 5 in 2005.  However, this current recall brings an already shaky red meat consumer to question the very core of the livestock industry.

Further, this time the recall is for beef harvested from downer cows which could pose a threat of mad cow disease.  A downer cow is one that though alive is not ambulatory prior to harvesting.  Symptoms of mad cow disease may present as showing neurological signs of ataxia and paralysis.   Slaughter of downer cows has not been allowed since the occurrence of the threat of mad cow disease.  It is prohibited to harvest an animal that cannot stand unless it is for reasons of an acute injury such as a broken leg.  But even then the USDA veterinary inspectors on hand are to pass judgment on these animals.  The USDA has strict rules under the 1958 Humane Slaughter Act as to the humane treatment of animals including downers. 

The current recall is considered a Class II recall, indicating that the chance of there actually being a health hazard is remote.  The USDA has explained that there is little health risk from this meat because the animals had passed ante-mortem inspection prior to going down.  In addition, the officials noted that it is required that the brains and spinal cords (called SRM – specified risk materials) from any of these animals would have been removed as required since it is believed that these are the areas most likely to harbor the disease and therefore would not have entered the food supply.  A Class I recall would indicate that consumption of the product would pose a serious health problem or death.  Such has been the case in some of the E.coli outbreaks.

Of great concern to many consumers and consumer advocate groups is the fact that nearly a quarter of all the recalled beef had been sent to the school lunch program and that most of it had already been consumed.  It has caused many of these groups to question the efficacy of our food safety system.  These groups charged that the USDA should do a better job of ensuring that questionable beef does not enter our food chain.

While consumers, beef industry spokesmen, processing industry spokespersons and producers all agree that the in-humane actions of workers at this particular facility are to be condemned the question is posed by many as to whether this is just an extraordinary and egregious incident or if it is indicative of a larger, industry-wide problem.  Of consumers and customers who contact us through our website one frequently asked question has to do with the manner in which we slaughter our animals and whether it is humane.  Many consumers come to grassfed and pasture raised meats that are sourced directly from small-scale family farms for the health benefits and safety issues.  However, the umbrella of interest in pasture based agriculture goes beyond these attributes to include those folks who are not opposed to eating meat but want to make absolutely sure that the livestock is cared for, transported and harvested in a humane manner.  Additionally, there are some who come for the environmental issues. 

For this reason, we decided some time ago to have third party verification of our humane pastured raised management at the farm, when the animals are transported and when they go through the harvest process.  We are very proud to have passed two humane audits.  We bear a certificate of approval from the American Humane Association as well as Steritech.  We feel that this gives extra assurance to our customers that we are passionate about the well being of our animals.

My advice to consumers who are concerned about this revelation of animal abuse at a facility in California not extend the judgment to all animal harvesting facilities.  The proverbial, “Don’t throw out the baby with the bath...” need not apply and the consumer stop eating meat altogether.  Please continue to enjoy the health benefits of beef but investigate from where it is sourced.  Choose small-scale family farms that personally care for their animals on open pastures.  Choose meats that are processed in third party audited facilities where the humane treatment is a priority.

  

 

 

 

Posted by Patti on February 20, 2008

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Comments

The best way to stop these problems is to stop eating animals, which many people are doing today anyway, with reduced abuse and cruelty to animals, along with benefits for one's health and the environment. In the meantime, I appreciate your concern--if it is genuine--for the animals and humans. Using the word "harvest" in relation to animals always leaves many of us with questions and doubts.

Posted by: Betty Moudy on February 20, 2008

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