by Marion Nestle
Feb 18 2008

The biggest ground beef recall ever

The USDA is announcing the largest recall of ground beef in U.S. history: 143 million pounds, most of it already sold and, presumably, eaten.  The meat was produced at the  Westland/Hallmark Meat company in Chino, California. The recall follows a shocking video of an investigation by the Humane Society at that plant.  The video, which is not easy to watch, shows “downer” cows being slaughtered for food as well as other violations of regulations for meat slaughter. The USDA is taking this very seriously, if too late to keep the meat out of the food supply. It has posted answers to Frequently Asked Questions on its website, along with a transcript of a technical briefing, and links to related statements. And here’s what today’s New York Times has to say about it (as always, the writer, Andrew Martin, provides great quotes).  If you are puzzled about what humane treatment of farm animals might have to do with the safety of the meat we eat, here is as good an explanation as anyone could ask for.

Comments

  • Daniel Ithaca,NY
  • February 18, 2008
  • 4:03 pm

Every bit of cow meat from since February 1, 2006??? That is a lot of meat.
Instead of employing all of these recalls and the wasted energy, effort, animal, and even human lives, why not just do it right* or not at all**?

*end the use of feeding cattle grain instead of grass and ban feed lots; humane treatment of the animals, though they will eventually be killed, do they need to undergo torture too? (we humans will also will eventually die and don’t wish to be tortured)
**Vote with your fork and EAT LESS meat let the industry know you will not tolerate these common practices, your body will reap the rewards of the healthier alternatives you eat instead of this meat.

video.hsus.org There are several videos there.
The USDA sees and knows about it, being present at every Slaughterhouse. So what is the surprise? Please contact your Representative (http://www.house.gov on the top left ) and Senators! (http://www.senate.gov on the top right) let them know these animals, just like your pet dog, or cat, also deserve to live their short lives with minimal suffering.

Daniel writes “**Vote with your fork and EAT LESS meat let the industry know you will not tolerate these common practices, your body will reap the rewards of the healthier alternatives you eat instead of this meat.”

If you are going to vote with your fork, it is more effective to seek out humanely raised sources of meat. That will also help accomplish your first goal, more humane treatment of livestock animals, which simply abstaining from meat will not. That is to say, if you give your money to factory farmers of soybeans instead of factory farmers of animals, you are not doing as much good as if you give your money to humane farmers of animals, who need all the economic help they can get and who step lightly on the environment by raising animals on grasslands rather than destroying habitats to raise monocultured soy and corn.

A couple of good resources for humane sources of meat in the US and Canada:

http://www.eatwild.com
http://www.eatwellguide.com

  • Daniel Ithaca,NY
  • February 18, 2008
  • 4:26 pm

Taking the step of eating in the way Migraineur suggests in eating pasture raised, humanely treated animals would be much better. That way is much better for the animals and a bit better for the humans who eat them.

What I was really getting at was to just avoid eating meat, that would be the best way for our health and the health of the environment, which would again be good for our health.
As is noted by the United Nations (“Rearing cattle produces more greenhouse gases than driving cars, UN report warns”) http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=20772&Cr=global&Cr1=environment
A tremendously greater amount of energy is used in growing animal protein than in growing the plants to be consumed directly by humans.

Daniel, I’m not convinced that it takes more energy to create animal protein than it does to create plant protein – provided the animals are allowed to forage. If you raise grain to feed to cows, yeah, that’s a pretty inefficient use of land. But cows and goats are geniuses at converting things we can’t eat, like grass and weeds, into high-quality protein. And farming of grains and legumes requires a huge amount of fertilizer. If we raise livestock to eat, we can use their manure as fertilizer. If we stop eating meat altogether, we stop raising livestock, and then we have to rely more on petroleum-based chemical fertilizers instead of manure.

I’m not convinced that switching from animals to plants is better for our health, either. Our bodies are not very good at converting plant-based omega-3s to the EPA and DHA that we need. But cows are great at it, if they are given grass (omega-3) instead of grain (omega-6). Getting sufficient protein from plants requires huge carbohydrate loads that many humans can’t handle.

Having said all this, I want to reiterate that I do not approve of kicking a cow when it’s down. I am absolutely sickened and appalled by this, and it leads me to redouble my efforts to seek out humanely treated meat.

I’m quite disappointed that every food writer and journalist and blogger is touting this as So Big, when we all know that the actual amount unconsumed and that will actually get returned is nothing like 143 million pounds. Will it even be 10 million pounds?

Suppose this recall was for 20 years instead of 2 years? That would make it bigger still. Hey, let’s recall all fast food hamburgers ever made!

The best line in the NYT article: “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.” Oh yeah, that makes me feel better. Hey, it could be dangerous, but it’s probably not, and besides, most of it has already been eaten. What an effective system.

My $.02 on the discussion between Daniel and Migraineur, I see little disagreement between you (except on the last part about all sorts of nutritional details). One can both cut back on the amount of meat one eats while simultaneously seeking out local/sustainably raised meat to eat. In fact, given the apparent price increase in good, safe, local meat, we’ve had to radically cut back on our meat consumption just so that we can afford to buy only local meat. I assure you that even the modest increase in sales caused by our purchasing from local sources (maybe 2#/month of various meats, maybe 1 chicken) is appreciated by the vastly smaller scale farm.

On the final points Migraineur was making, whatever data we might have that human bodies have trouble converting X to Y, certainly many cultures have existed happily and healthily (and do to this day) on vastly lower (if any) meat intake than we have, so I’m not very bothered by these new concerns.

  • Gillian
  • February 18, 2008
  • 9:00 pm

It seems to me I remember hearing that well-treated animals provide better-tasting meat.

  • Eva
  • February 18, 2008
  • 9:41 pm

It was interesting (and sad, and typical) to read the NYT piece and watch the broadcast coverage of the recall in that none of it referenced feedlots and how sick ALL the cows are due to eating grains instead of grass. It’s positioned as an aberration rather than the systemic problem it is. And yet, the root of the problem is so obvious. I guess big business controls the media too.

Gillian – Ah, but when it comes right down to it, most people (in the US) want the cheapest possible food, rather than food raised humanely. Pay $1 for an egg, $6/lb for a chicken, etc., is simply unfathomable to most of Americans. They’d rather eat cheap food that makes them fat, then, well, anything. How will you get a significant percentage to do differently? (And, we already have the cheapest food per capita in the world…which couldn’t be more backwards.)

  • jen
  • February 19, 2008
  • 8:50 am

Migraineur said, “And farming of grains and legumes requires a huge amount of fertilizer. If we raise livestock to eat, we can use their manure as fertilizer. If we stop eating meat altogether, we stop raising livestock, and then we have to rely more on petroleum-based chemical fertilizers instead of manure.”

we would have to eat our plant foods grown organically rather than conventionally, which eliminates the need for such fertilizers.

in my opinion the only real way the meatpacking industry is ever going to feel the pinch is if we start buying our meat from more local, small farms where you can truly get an idea of how the animals are cared for and raised. unfortunately it is more expensive to purchase from such places but I think most folks would find that the quality much higher, and would enjoy the piece of mind in knowing they are supporting their neighbors rather than a couple of industry fat cats.

  • Bix
  • February 19, 2008
  • 9:02 am

If FSIS had a “continuing presence” at Hallmark, and if its “personnel are trained to identify these behaviors and act immediately”, as they claim, why did it take an outside animal rights group to discover this?

  • Melissa
  • February 27, 2008
  • 10:17 am

I just think it is sad that human nature has this capability. Treating animals in this way is a real shame and is so heartbreaking.

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