Friday, February 8, 2008

From farm to fork – not forklift

Covering the food safety beat here at Land Line, I pretty much “see it all” when it comes to all the gory details surrounding food recalls and what can and does happen when someone contracts a foodborne illness after eating bad food.

In the last week or so, I am sure many of you have watched graphic footage on the news and the Internet of workers abusing sick and injured cattle at a California slaughterhouse.

This undercover video was shot by the Humane Society, exposing workers using forklifts, wooden sticks, electric shock and high-pressure sprayers in an effort to get these visibly sick and injured cows on their feet so they could pass USDA inspection – just so they could be processed into the food supply chain.

What’s also disturbing is that this video was shot a few months ago, and if your kids attend public school and eat school lunches, they may have already eaten some of this meat from these sick cows.

That’s because the company in the video, Hallmark Meat Packing in Chino, CA, sells their meat to Westland Meat Co., which is a major supplier of meat to the USDA school lunch programs in at least 34 states. They also supply this meat to the elderly and low-income families.

The good news is that the USDA has indefinitely suspended Westland Meat Company as a supplier to Federal food programs because the meat from “downer” cows is not supposed to enter the food supply chain. But, it does happen. This slaughterhouse was supposed to be inspected by a USDA inspector twice a day.

It outrages me that the inhumane treatment of these animals was just about making a buck. If these “downer” cows can stand during inspection, they can bring a couple hundred dollars apiece profit, but if owners send the same animals to a rendering plant, it actually costs them.

In looking at the video, many of these cows were being drug with chains through manure because they were too sick or injured to stand.

Some scientists believe this is how dangerous E.coli bacteria is being introduced into the food supply chain – when the hides of these “downed” cattle covered in manure are cut through during processing and fecal matter comes in contact with the meat. Besides the threat of E. coli contamination, these sick animals may also have other diseases like mad-cow disease or other diseases that can be transmitted to humans.

More than 33 million pounds of meat was recalled because of potential E. coli contamination last year alone.

I like my beef marinated, but not in E. coli.