Friday, February 29


No one could have predicted it would be at this time of the week that the USDA would choose to announce a recall of three of its employees.

And you gotta love this: Painter said a local union representative told him earlier Friday that a third inspector was also placed on leave, but he could not confirm it with the agency. "Apparently, they found enough evidence to suspend those people," Painter said. "When I asked them why exactly, they said, 'I don't know.' I don't know if I buy that."

Thursday, February 28


Harkin condemned the USDA rules that rely on slaughterhouse officials to call a veterinarian back if a cow falls down after already passing its inspection.

"I think that's a very poor requirement," Harkin said.
"Talk about the fox guarding the hen house."

I agree - it's about time we did talk about it.

Tuesday, February 26


Boy, that's a shocker, ain't it? With his presence "requested" by congressional investigators, Steve Mendell simply blew them off. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell "expressed disappointment that Mendel refused to testify before the panel," saying "We also wanted to hear from the head of the California meat packing company who recently recalled 143 million pounds of beef, including 55 million pounds destined for our schoolchildren. It appears he has refused our offer to testify voluntarily. We now will have to consider whether we need to compel his appearance to probe how on-site USDA inspectors could have missed these safety problems and the inhumane treatment of the animals that were slaughtered there."

Now we can watch and see if congressional investigators mimic the USDA, cutting the poor guy some slack (after all, he's had a prety bad month, right?), or show some backbone and subpoena this criminally profiteering bozo.


Here's a good in-depth look at the slaughterhouse behind the downers-in-food scandal - in fact, a little too in-depth sometimes (not every knock at a neighbor's door really needed to be chronicled).

Two key points jump out: 1) As the headline says, if Westland/Hallmark goes down, it's going to make things tougher for area dairy producers, who of course, deserve to have it as tough as their cows do.

    Since Westland/Hallmark closed, Chino Livestock Market has noticed a drop-off in business at weekly auctions of about 1,500 spent dairy cows from Riverside and San Bernardino counties, said owner Rod Balcao.

    Slaughterhouses out of the area bid less than Westland/Hallmark did for the skinniest cows or refuse to bid on them at all because of the high chance they will not survive a long truck ride, Balcao said.

    In addition, he said, if a cow were crippled or weak, a local dairy might have it hauled directly to the Chino slaughterhouse rather than send it to auction.

    "That meat packing plant was an asset for all the dairymen in the community," he said.
A loss of that dairymen's asset is a boon to compassionate people as well as anyone who cares about human health or the environment. Good riddance.

2) The article ends with a de facto admission that this was no isolated incident by two rogue workers - as well as a tacit admission that both compassion and human health always take a back seat to meat producers' profits. Sybrand Vander Dussen, a Corona dairyman and president of the Chino-based Milk Producers Council, says that
    when handling cows, including downers, "economics always rules. If you drag it, you damage the hide or damage the meat or hurt the cow. Anything like that will hurt you economically."

    If a cow is not diseased but off its feet and can't go to slaughter unless it stands up, it makes economic sense for a slaughterhouse to get the cow upright, including giving the cow an electric jolt or two, Vander Dussen said.
Of course, it's not actually up to the entry-level slaughterhouse workers to judge whether a cow is "not diseased" or not, it's the USDA vet's job, which is why that rule exists. While it's possible the workers could somehow tell the animals weren't diseased and wanted to keep the line moving at all costs, it's also eminently possible they didn't think they would like the verdict of the vet if notified. Either way, their criminal actions were, as Vander Dussen indicates, within the normal realm of slaughterhouse priorities, as are, no doubt, those of thousands of others going on right now.

Sunday, February 24


With apparently no intended irony, the general manager of Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co told The Wall Street Journal on, ahem, Friday that the company would almost certainly have to close, using colorful terminology: "If the USDA wants payment back, we're dead meat. We're done." said Anthony Magidow. "There's no way we could pay it all back." Would it be mixing metaphors too much to call this - the perpetrators of so much egregious suffering and death seeing themselves as equivalent to the garbage product they've put out for the past two years - as "delicious"? OK, how about "poetic"? Whatever - a major meat producer giving up the business is good news, and a signal to all who would attempt to fill that gap that getting into such a business today is a terrible idea.

So in the long run, this works out equivalent to my "option A" for the USDA. But I will really be astonished if they include "option B."

UPDATE: Here's a passable attempt at a big-picture "meat safety" overview from just the plants around San Diego. It exposes a good crop of extremely unsavory details about meat processing, but utterly fails to address the central issue of this recall - downers, and therefore potential BSE, in the food supply - and winds up pretty much endorsing meat processors' viewpoint that USDA inspections are too diligent and nitpicky. "[I]nspectors have such a lengthy checklist that invariably, they find something wrong." Invariably? Take a look at that video, pal - seems somewhat, shall we say, variable.


Speaking before meat packers and processors, Schafer said the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. recall announced earlier this week had already prompted diplomats to ask why the U.S. can't produce safe meat. "As people look for reasons to protect their own market places ... they say you can't even send us safe meat," he said. "Do we need to issue new regulations and things? Right now we're just not prepared to do that."

Comical - or it would be, if lives as well as entire economies weren't at stake. First, let's remember that the US meat industry has a long history of sending unsafe meat to its trading partners, so the "looking for reasons to protect their own market places" line is classic sleight-of-hand. The fact is the USDA has gotten away with so much sloppiness and so little scrutiny here among the meat-eating media that they forget other countries actually may take trade standards, and the health of the populace, seriously. And still the agency stubbornly denies any need to do anything such as, ahem, "issue new regulations and things." Eloquent.

Also, ya gotta love this: "The agency has no plans to test any of the recalled meat, said Ken Petersen, assistant administrator for the department's Food Safety and Inspection Service. Petersen said the meat already is being removed from the food supply, so there is no reason to test it. 'Testing it isn't going to tell me anything,' he said." Of course not. Only whether the prevalence of BSE in the meat you were rubber-stamping for the nation's schoolchildren was nonexistent, tiny, or at a level that could and should cause Americans to avoid factory-farm beef altogether. And when you're the industry-puppet USDA, what's the point in that?

UPDATE 2/26: US to Far East: Where you gonna get your beef from, then - Canada? (A reminder that yeah, it does matter if a cow is sick when it gets into the food supply.)