Conflicts of interest:
Christopher Cook writes on "Meat Roulette" in the L.A. Times, highlighting the fact that Hallmark/Westland was engaging in its abuses while supposedly operating under full USDA oversight:
Ultimately, what needs fixing goes far beyond recalling 143 million pounds of meat. We need to greatly expand the number and the role of food-safety inspectors; erect a stronger firewall between inspection and promotion, so the agency that sets line speeds and promotes productivity is not also charged with evaluating food safety; give the government full authority to require meat recalls and to identify where tainted meat has been shipped and sold; and slow the production line to enable more accurate inspection and greater care in handling the meat, which would also reduce the high worker injury rates. Finally, the extreme consolidation into a few corporate hands must be checked, to break the meat industry's stranglehold on regulatory policy.**
One likely reason for the "downer" status of the cows: laminitis. "Hallmark principally slaughters "spent" dairy cows for the Westland Meat Co.," says the Humane Society of the U.S.. High-producing dairy cows (commonly treated with rBGH to increase output, then-- spent early-- slaughtered for beef) often develop this painful inflammation of the hoof lining, limiting their ability to stand or walk. (The reasons appear complex, and to be linked to inappropriate diet, other inflammations like mastitis, and environmental conditions such as concrete flooring and restricted movement, among other factors.) Some of the downed cows in the Humane Society video do appear actually injured or deformed, as opposed to merely weak or sick.
The wrong answer:
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA, Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and, usually, proponent of progressive farm policy), says that the Westland recall justifies support for the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). Harkin's premise is that, under NAIS-- which would track individual animals or lots throughout the food system-- the beef recall could have been much smaller and more targeted.
...we would have known what lot and what animals were involved in the meat and where the meat went," Harkin said. "As it was, they had to recall all of this meat because they didn't know."Senator Harkin, with all due respect, you are sweeping aside the implications of the documented abuses. You are suggesting that we pour our resources into building the capacity to track down and eliminate the specific meat from the specific animals whose "downer" status happened to be filmed by an undercover spy for the Humane Society.
That plant was USDA-inspected, and yet the flouting of regulations appears to have been routine. How many animals entered the food chain over the weeks or years whose treatment and condition went undocumented? At how many other companies are such practices common? I suggest we use our resources to improve federal inspection and regulatory compliance on the part of the meatpackers, rather than pushing an invasive, unnecessary program that carries substantial and disproportionate burdens for small livestock farmers.