Meat Safety on the Frontburner

Ellen Haas Health Guide
  • Recent headlines that the Us Department of Agriculture announced the biggest recall in history -143 million pounds of raw and frozen beef produced since 2006-has spurred members of Congress, consumer leaders and food safety experts to question the safety of our meat supply and the 100 year old system that should be protecting consumer health.


    USDA issued the recall because a video, taken by The Humane Society, inside the Westland/Hallmark slaughterhouse showed potentially sick cows that were unable to walk -"downer cows" -being tortured and dragged to slaughter. USDA should be ensuring that sick animals are not slaughtered for human food. Cattle that are unable to walk are banned from use as human food because they show a higher occurrence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow disease.

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    The consumer danger posed by the beef recall has largely passed because most of the beef has been consumed or disposed of. Of concern, tho is that an estimated 37 million pounds of beef went to the National School Lunch program extending back to Feb 1, 2006.


    The real issue experts say is that this incident is part of a larger systemic problem with the USDA's meat inspection program. Why did USDA and it's inspectors fail to detect and correct problems at the Hallmark plant before the Humane Society released it's video? Tho we have a mandatory federal inspection program that began in 1906 after the publication of The Jungle, the current system is not working.


    Congress is now looking closely at what happened with this and other recent recalls (there have been 20 beef recalls in the last 12 months). They are also questioning the process for identifying which stores sold the recalled beef. The issue of the disclosure of retail outlets involved is an issue that consumer groups raise because today it is difficult-if not impossible to figure out if they purchased beef products produced by Westland/Hallmark.


    New policies are needed. For example, the USDA needs to have the authority to identify specific retail outlets where recalled meat and poultry products were sold. How else will consumers know if their supermarket sold the recalled meat?


    With each new headline and recall, consumers have been losing confidence in the ability of the federal government to insure that the meat they eat is safe. To restore the confidence and protect consumer health Congress needs to move ahead with systemic changes to this critical consumer protection program.


    What action do you think is needed to assure the safety of our food supply?


    Given these food safety questions, you might wonder what to choose for your dinner tonight. Health experts are not advising that you give up eating beef. But remember, healthy eating means that you choose from a variety of foods so at Ellen's Healthy Table we offer three choices:

Published On: March 10, 2008