The tape that recalled 10,000 cows

Well, as I’d noted earlier, the tape made in Chino, CA at a meat packing plant had some public health implications, implications that were not lost on the USDA, who quickly and properly issued a meat recall for 143 million pounds of beef, the largest recall in history. That’s about 2 patties for every man, women and child in the USA:

Agency Orders Largest Recall of Ground Beef
By Andrew Martin
The New York Times

Monday 18 February 2008

A California meat company on Sunday issued the largest beef recall in history, 143 million pounds, some of which was used in school lunch programs, Department of Agriculture officials announced.

The recall by the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company, based in Chino, Calif., comes after a widening animal-abuse scandal that started after the Humane Society of the United States distributed an undercover video on Jan. 30 that showed workers kicking sick cows and using forklifts and electric shocks to force them to walk.

The video raised questions about the safety of the meat, because cows that cannot walk, called downer cows, pose an added risk of diseases including mad cow disease. The federal government has banned downer cows from the food supply.

Agriculture officials said there was little health risk from the recalled meat because the animals had already passed pre-slaughter inspection and much of the meat had already been eaten. In addition, the officials noted that while mad cow disease was extremely rare, the brains and spinal cords from the animals – the area most likely to harbor the disease – would not have entered the human food chain. “The great majority has probably been consumed,” said Dr. Richard Raymond, the Agriculture Department’s under secretary for food safety.

The video was embarrassing for the Department of Agriculture, as inspectors are supposed to be monitoring slaughterhouses for abuse. It surfaced after a year of increasing concerns about the safety of the meat supply amid a sharp increase in the number of recalls tied to a particularly deadly form of the E. coli pathogen.


Cows that cannot walk cannot be used for food because they pose an added risk of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, a fatal disease that eats away at the brain. There have been three confirmed cases of infected cattle in this country since 2003.

The announcement on Sunday was classified as a Class II recall, indicating that the chances of health hazards were remote. Other large recalls involving E. coli have been Class I recalls, indicating that eating the product may cause serious health problems or even death.

Officials at Westland/Hallmark meat could not be located on Sunday for comment.

Some critics pointed out that the recall exposed gaps in the nation’s system for food safety.

“The recall is obviously the big news,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society. “The longer-term problem is the inadequacies of the inspection system. How can so many downers have been mistreated day after day within a U.S.D.A. oversight system that was present at the plant?

“We need more boots on the ground at the plants,” he said.

The undercover video, shown on television and on YouTube and other Web sites, has caused an uproar since its release.

The Department of Agriculture started an inquiry and suspended the company as a supplier to federal nutrition programs. Steve Mendell, president of Hallmark/Westland, said afterward that he was “shocked and horrified” by the videos and voluntarily suspended operations pending the outcome of the federal inquiry.

On Friday, the San Bernardino district attorney, Michael A. Ramos, filed animal cruelty charges against two employees fired by the meat company. Daniel Agarte Navarro was charged with five felonies and three misdemeanors, and Luis Sanchez with three misdemeanors.

The tape that recalled 10,000 cows

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