Monday, February 18, 2008

Another Beef Recall

This time, it's a manufacturer in So. Cal. Sigh...

The recall affects beef products dating to Feb. 1, 2006, coming from Chino-based Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. No illnesses are linked so far to the recalled meat, and Agriculture officials say health threat was likely small. The reason for the recall is due to the mishandling of cattle, not following rules and breaking laws, according to Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer. But this isn't the first incident of this kind. The Department of Agriculture has 7,800 inspectors who check more than 6,200 plants. In 2007, the agency suspended 66 plants; 12 of which were related to humane handling violations.

Many school districts across the nation stopped using ground beef from Hallmark Meat Packing Co. Of course being the biggest recall of meat in history, advocacy groups and certain government officials are taking the opportunity to voice their concerns. One of the biggest question is how the Department of Agriculture did not catch the problem since its inspectors are supposed to be monitoring slaughterhouses for abuse. Although the Department of Agriculture doesn't actually have the authority to recall meat, they can pressure companies with various things to pursuade them to issue recalls.

This recall is the pinnacle of a year long of issues for the beef industry. According to the NY Times, last year's 21 recalls of beef related to potential E. coli contamination have some theorizing the increase could be due to "the cyclical nature of pathogens and changes in cattle-feeding practices caused by the ethanol boom." Huh, ethanol boom, that's a whole other rant post.


shrtn said...

Another example of a company "not doing the right thing" and an ineffective USDA that is supposed to prevent "downer cows" from entering the food supply. (OR, maybe the cow was not sick at all, maybe it was passively protesting before entering the grinder)

There should be objective third parties to watch for this stuff. But who would pay for it?

Barefoot Plumies said...

Hi shrtn, and welcome! I don't think the USDA is ineffective, considering 66 plants were suspended last year. That, at least, shows me they are doing something. I think the question is whether (and how) they can be "more" effective. I'll give the USDA some latitude for now since I don't know all the details or historical stats.

That being said, according to the USDA transcript of the technical briefing (found under Newsroom on, it sounds like the USDA acted according to procedures in the inspection of the cattles in question. Based on the findings USDA released, the plant was not compliant with procedures when some cattles became nonambulatory after passing the original inspection. That means the cattle were fine during inspection, but sometime thereafter and before being slaughtered, became nonambulatory.

I don't know if a 3rd party would have been effective in this situation unless they were inspecting the cattles just prior to slaughter. IMO, that would have been the only way.

Also, I think involving 3rd party monitoring would open up a whole new can of worms. Like you mentioned, additional costs would certainly apply and who would pay, not just the salaries of these 3rd parties. There's also training of the 3rd party, overhead costs to maintain these entities, and some kind of monitoring or management of the 3rd party to ensure they are also compliant. It may even require a complete overhaul of the existing system. Can you imagine what a burger would cost then?

I certainly have no answers and I'm convinced that the solution(s) is not simple or cheap.