If you are having trouble understanding what the huge meat recall is about, catch this well linked piece by Elissa Altman on the Huffington Post.
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The recall of 143 million pounds of hamburger is a big blow to the image of the meat industry, and its lobbying groups are hard at work. Calling calls for more regulation “simply outrageous,” the Institute argues that what was caught on the Human Society’s notorious videotape is not typical: We will not let a video from what appears to have been a tragic anomaly stand as the poster child for our industry.
And if you were wondering what happened to the recalled meat, the USDA gives an accounting: 50.3 million lbs were distributed as part of the national school lunch program; of that, 19.6 million were consumed; 15.2 million are identified and on hold; and 15.5
million still being traced. But what about the remaining 93 million? All eaten?
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.
I don’t know about you but I can’t keep up with them. So here is another million pound recall of hamburger contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. This time, the USDA was on the job testing hamburger at the retail level. Good work. USDA has safety rules (HACCP with pathogen reduction) for meat and poultry packers. Now, how about enforcing them? Or is that too much to ask?
Would you believe 5 million pizzas? 5 million! That’s a lot of pepperoni.
I’ll say it again: how bad does it have to get? We know how to produce safe food. If companies aren’t producing safe food, it’s because they are leaving it up to customers to cook foods properly, cutting corners, or just don’t care–and because nobody is making them. I’ll say it again: How bad does it have to get to get Congress to call for a farm-to-table food safety system in this country, one that requires companies to follow standard food safety procedures, test to make sure they are working, and pay dearly if they are not.
According to news reports, the USDA has just announced that it plans to hold companies accountable for producing safe beef. USDA safety officials say they are taking aggressive steps (see list) to reduce outbreaks from E. coli and other pathogens. As I keep saying, companies know how to produce safe meat, but need some encouragement (translation: enforcement) to do so. The USDA absolutely has the mandate to enforce food safety regulations and let’s hope it really does.
So now we know (courtesy of the New York Times) why E. coli O157:H7 recalls are becoming more frequent: the meat industry isn’t following food safety rules. These rules were require meat and poultry producers to develop and monitor plans for producing safe food, and to test to make sure the plans are working. Two problems here: the companies aren’t bothering to follow the rules, and the onsite USDA inspectors aren’t bothering to enforce them. Standard food safety rules–HACCP and pathogen reduction–work really well, but only if designed, followed, and enforced to the letter and spirit. I keep asking: what will it take to get Congress to act on the food safety issue?
I’ve just discovered Meat & Poultry, an excellent source of information about current recalls and other industry gossip. The site describes two new E. coli O157:H7 recalls, which now must be added to the “sudden spike” of 14 others this year. Are incidents and outbreaks increasing because the industry is getting sloppier, or is the surveillance system getting better? Whatever. If we had a farm-to-table food safety system, we might be able to answer this question and do something about it.