Beef Recall Raises Tempers Over Animal Cruelty

Editor David Feder hopes this adjunct editorial about the nations biggest food recall over suspect beef and animal cruelty will make you as angry as he is.

By David Feder, R.D.

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Have you checked out my videoblog, “Wellness Foods Minute: Beef Recall Demands Harsh Judgment” (www.foodprocessing.com/multimedia/2008/008.html)? Well, hold on to your hats   there’s more: On Feb. 29, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer told Congress he wasn’t going to endorse an outright ban on the slaughter for food of so-called "downer" cows. Most Americans weren’t even aware these sick, injured and diseased cows were entering the human food supply until the Westland/Hallmark recall – the largest food recall in history.

It gets better: Secretary Schafer declined even to back stiffer penalties for regulatory violations by meat processors. Schafer seems to think more random inspections of slaughterhouses and more frequent unannounced audits will do the trick. Albert Einstein is attributed with having said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” That the current prescribed approach to meat-processing safety continues to fail miserably apparently hasn’t occurred to the secretary.

The Humane Society described the animals as “too sick or injured to stand or walk…being kicked, beaten, dragged with chains, shocked with electric prods, sprayed in the face with hoses and rammed by forklifts in efforts to get them to their feet to pass USDA inspection.”

According to the society, had the video of its investigation not been made public, things likely would have been business as usual for Westland/Hallmark and thousands more school kids and fast-food restaurant diners would have been put at risk. Many of these downer animals are “depleted” dairy cows, which make up more than 1 in 6 of cattle slaughtered in the U.S.

Recommended reading:

The Chicago Tribune’s comprehensive report on the Westland/Hallmark recall

U.S. Human Society’s investigative report

Meat Packer Admits Slaughter of Sick Cows

There are those experts, especially in the government, who claim there never was truly any risk, that the diseases these ill, hurt and emaciated cows suffered – specifically mastitis, bacterial infections and a wasting disease called Johne’s   can’t be transferred to humans. That’s in dispute. Some research suggests a connection between Johne’s and Crohn’s Disease.

Worse, whereas weakness, injury, fear or exhaustion are the main causes of downer cows, Mad Cow   bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)   is another. It might be extremely rare, but we probably wouldn’t know because, with typical bureaucratic logic, inspection for BSE has been loosened due to its not having been found in more than a handful of cases.

While USDA officials continue to insist risk was “extremely low,” let’s remember we’re speaking of 143 million lbs. of product. Bacteria are microscopic. Prions, which cause BSE are even smaller. If cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness, it’s hardly a stretch to believe a plant operating in such an ungodly manner has little regard for sanitation.

Following in the footsteps of another inept U.S. secretary, the infamous James “Let Them Eat Ketchup” Watt, Schafer has made it very clear where his office’s priority lies, and it sure isn’t in the service of the American people by whose grace – and taxes   he receives his six-figure salary. How can we address an entity that displays such a cavalier lack of concern and openly hostile attitude toward the well-being of our children? The coming election will likely put Schafer out of a job, no matter which side wins.

In my videoblog I stated that “heads should roll.” So far, all that’s happened in the case is the USDA suspended two federal inspectors and California prosecuted two (former) Hallmark/Westland plant workers on charges of animal cruelty. Some action is filtering up from irate citizens: A House oversight subcommittee started procedures to gain testimony from Hallmark/Westland Meat Co. owner Steve Mendell. It’s up to consumers, but even more so to responsible processors, to keep the heat on.

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