EDITORIAL: Bad beef–It’s not what’s for dinner


Guess what? The largest beef recall in history has just taken place in your lifetime. And according to the United States Dept. of Agriculture (USDA), most of the recalled beef has probably already been eaten — because the tainted beef has been available for consumption for two years now — and could be making its way through your digestive tract right now.

We hope you’re just as disturbed about this as we are.

Beef — 143 million pounds of it — was recalled on Sunday due to an undercover investigation by the Humane Society at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co. slaughterhouse in Southern California, stemming back to February 2006.

The investigation revealed sickening acts of cruelty in which workers attempted to force downed cows, who are too sick and weak to stand up, onto their feet. In the video that Humane Society of the United States revealed, workers are seen kicking cows, ramming them with the blades of a forklift, jabbing them in the eyes, and shooting high-pressure water up their noses and down their throats in attempts to force them to walk to the slaughter area.

This kind of abuse from slaughterhouse workers is completely unacceptable and, to empathetic individuals, heartbreaking — not to mention absolutely illegal.

But the real concern among caring and concerned Americans is not merely the abuse of the animals but the fact that the USDA is allowing these sick cows to be put into our food system for consumption, potentially sickening us.

So what’s the big deal with eating downed cows’ meat? Well, downed cattle have weaker immune systems and, because they cannot stand up, they wallow in feces and urine, raising the risk of contamination by E. coli, salmonella and mad cow disease. Federal regulations require cattle to be able to walk to their deaths to ensure they are at least healthy enough to stand on their own.

Even more disturbing is the fact that the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co. is the second-largest supplier of beef to USDA’s Commodity Procurement Branch, which distributes beef to needy families, the elderly and schools through the National School Lunch Program. More than 100,000 schools and child-care facilities nationwide receive meat through this lunch program, including Orange and Lake County schools.

Osceola school district found at least 80 pounds of the contaminated beef in their freezers as well. According to the Orlando Sentinel, “Osceola becomes the third school district in Central Florida to change its lunch menu because of the nationwide recall.”

We put our faith in the USDA to protect us from diseased meat. This will come with the protection of the source of the meat – the cow – as well as with heightened USDA inspection practices and procedures. Subjecting animals to acts of cruelty is punishable by felony and misdemeanor counts, and we feel that, like the animal abusers at the slaughterhouse, the USDA inspectors should be held accountable to the law for their failure to protect Americans from diseased meat.

Animal activist groups claim that slaughterhouse abuse and lax inspection enforcement such as this is not an isolated incident. They say it is the norm and is just a matter of getting caught on tape. For the sake of the animals and for the health of the people, we hope they’re wrong, but the Hallmark incident makes this look grim.

The real kicker in this case illuminates the shady enforcement that animal activists have been talking about all along: the cows were abused, and downed cows were allowed to pass inspection while USDA inspectors were at the slaughterhouse. This is beyond embarrassing, folks; it’s downright shameful. The USDA’s inspection practices apparently include turning a blind eye to sick cows lying on the dirty ground that are in line to be slaughtered for human consumption.

The USDA needs to beef up its inspection practices as well as analyze the ethics and practices of its inspectors. The implementation of the Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act is another needed step. Although the USDA established a temporary ban on the slaughter of downed cattle in 2004, it was never finalized or enforced. This act would ban USDA inspectors from approving meat from downed cattle and other animals, as well as require euthanasia for any downed animal. It would effectively hold USDA inspectors accountable for possibly poisoning the American people.

In addition to this act, the Farm Animal Stewardship Purchasing Act must be passed to protect animals from this type of cruelty. This act would require animal producers supplying federal programs with meat, dairy and eggs to comply with moderate animal welfare standards, such as providing space to move, water and food to drink daily and euthanasia for sick or injured animals.

We feel that these steps, taken together, will tighten the reigns on slaughterhouse workers and put pressure on USDA inspectors to follow suit with the acts’ legislative requirements. The animals deserve far better treatment and the people deserve clean meat that they can eat without fear of infection.

We should not stand for such lax enforcement standards any longer.

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