No more reporting on the beef recall?

Suspect beef product ON HOLD on school shelvesThe largest beef recall in history has taught us what, so far? That 37 million pounds went to the USDA school lunch program, which was distributed to schools unknown. We quietly presume the USDA had been pawning off the questionable product to the poor and dismissible among our population. But why won’t they release the names of the schools? In whispered tones with food program insiders, you learn why. Because the USDA product goes to ALL schools. (NOTE: Corpus Christi School found the recalled meat on their shelves and made the switch to a safer supplier, shouldn’t your school do the same?)

While all or any of the Colorado schools may have taken delivery of the Hallmark suspect product, the USDA school food program in Colorado gets the bulk of its meat from Advanced Meatpacking out of Oklahoma. Advanced is regarded by industry watchers as likely worse than Hallmark. We’re not talking about the tip of an iceberg, we’re [not] talking about the as yet largely unexposed large underbelly of American factory farming.

What’s so bad about US meat that foreign markets won’t buy it? Our government regulators won’t test it adequately. Individual meatpackers who want to submit their product for voluntary testing are prevented by the USDA, for fear of creating a stigma around non-tested meat.

Other countries test their 100% of their herd animals for BSE. They also prohibit the feeding of rendered animals to other animals. This is the process by which BSE spreads. The US does not prohibit the use of rendered feed. US calves are raised on a diet of milk and blood: milk fortified with the blood of their predecessors. It redefines “adulterated” I think.

US methods to prevent mad cow disease resemble more the measures necessary not to see it. The official word is that the USA doesn’t have mad cow disease. Cattle which display the traits resembling mad cow disease in Europe, here are called “downer cows.” Our safety guidelines are thus: keep those cows from reaching the meat packers. Easy enough, unless you run across slaughterhouse workers with the initiate to use forklifts and chains to harvest downed cows like any other. Then you need video cameras to catch them.

But video cameras cannot catch the biggest flaw in this screening process. Most cattle infected with BSE do not begin to show symptoms until after they are two years old. Most cattle in the US reach the slaughterhouse before they are two.

Even with a breach of our paltry preventive procedures, the USDA is still unwilling to say their prescribed screening is insufficient.

Perhaps the USDA fears that implementing European testing standards would reveal a huge chunk of US beef to be tainted with mad cow. This would profoundly impact the food industry and our economy as a whole. Perhaps a few thousand CJD fatalities five years from now is a small price to pay for stability now. Besides, those in the know have money to buy organic beef from verifiable sources. The prosperity of the market has always been borne on the backs and at the expense of the common mortal. CJD means fewer to reach retirement.

Newspapers don’t want to touch this subject, many of their advertisers are restaurants which can’t afford to deal in the more expensive meats. Alternative news-weeklies rely on supermarkets for their distribution sites.

(NOTE: Except Ralph Routon and the Independent, March 6)

No one wants to shake consumer confidence in the food supply. The problem extends beyond beef, beyond poultry, beyond farmed fish, beyond ocean fisheries, beyond imported produce, beyond domestic agribusiness, beyond pesticides, irradiation and biogenetics. So the media is not going to start with any of it. As it is with the American health care system, your health is up to you.

By the way, most of the meat being recalled has already been consumed. Of what’s left, the USDA is only asking schools to set it aside for the time being. It is being neither recalled, nor destroyed. Probably it would be too alarming to ask cafeteria workers to destroy what only a day before they had been serving up for their kids for years.

This is good news for you, if you want to find out which schools were serving the bad meat. You still have a chance to call those responsible for the food service at your child’s school. Public or private, I assure you the probability is similar. Ask them if they’ve got the recalled Hallmark stock on hold.

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Eric Verlo

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1 Response to No more reporting on the beef recall?

  1. Eric Eric says:

    School makes switch to organic beef
    Jim Myers, THE COLORADO CATHOLIC HERALD, Mar 7, 2008

    COLORADO SPRINGS. Corpus Christi School has changed beef suppliers to a local organic outlet following a U.S. Department of Agriculture (UDSA) recall of beef in the middle of February at institutions around the nation.

    The recall, the largest in U.S. history that aimed to round up 143 million pounds of suspect meat, came on the heels of an investigation of California-based Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company. The slaughterhouse and grinding operation that supplies approximately 20 percent of the lunch meat to schools across the nation has come under investigation for inhumane and potentially dangerous practices.

    Corpus Christi participates in a government lunch program that provides meat and other food supplies that public and private schools can use in hot lunches. Corpus Christi is one of four diocesan schools, along with Ave Maria in Parker and Divine Redeemer and Pauline Memorial in Colorado Springs, which provides hot lunches to students on a daily basis. St. Peter in Monument provides hot lunch one day a week.

    Corpus Christi now is using Callicrate Beef, a local brand that is sold at Ranch Foods Direct in Colorado Springs. Callicrate Beef and Ranch Foods Direct are owned by Mike Callicrate, a Catholic who makes his home in St. Francis, Kan., and commutes back and forth to Colorado Springs weekly.

    According to the Office of Total Catholic Education, Divine Redeemer contracts lunches through District 11, which receives its beef from Callicrate Beef. Ave Maria works in concert with Douglas County Schools, which is in talks with Callicrate Beef to become a food supplier.

    Callicrate said Callicrate Beef and Ranch Foods Direct operate with an understanding of humane treatment of animals, and his company adds no hormones, antibiotics or animal by-products to its meat. He said inhumane treatment of livestock extends to unhealthy food preparation and a substandard finished product that shouldn’t be served to children at schools or aging people in assisted living facilities.

    “We have companies that have taken food and turned it into something unhealthy,” said Callicrate, referring to additives and chemicals that are put into processed foods. “We’re treating our children and old people in ways that are unacceptable. Did your mom and dad simply feed you with the cheapest thing they could find?”

    Further, from a Catholic perspective, human and ethical meat production follows the call for stewardship of the earth, Callicrate said, calling it “morally wrong” to simply take from the land indiscriminately.

    “We are instructed to care for our animals humanely,” said Callicrate. “We are instructed to treat people the way we want to be treated.”

    The beef recall stems from producers like Hallmark/Westland, which were using “downer” cows for beef supply. Downer cows are cattle that are sick, diseased and dying. They produce meat that may be detrimental to humans if ingested. Hallmark/Westland is accused of grinding downer cows into ground beef, including grinding spinal cords into the product.

    “Of the 143 million pounds involved with this recall, we have about 50.3 million pounds that went to federal nutrition programs,” Eric Steiner, associate administrator for the USDA’s food and nutrition services’ special nutrition programs, told reporters in a teleconference Feb. 21. “Of that 50.3 million pounds, we have 19.6 million pounds that were consumed.”

    The USDA listed the beef recall as a Class II recall, indicating a low health risk, and no illnesses have been reported from tainted meat.

    “[W]e call it a very, very remote probability of any adverse illness,” said Dr. Kenneth Peterson, assistant administrator for the USDA’s food safety and inspection service’s office of field operations.

    Rina Sanabria, food services coordinator at Corpus Christi, said the school was surprised to find out it was getting suspect beef for its school lunches, though she said no students reported becoming sick from any tainted meat.

    “Coming from the government, you would think they were sending us good things,” she said. “I was very concerned because we’ve been getting this meat for a long time.”

    The USDA contacted Corpus Christi in February and told the school to put beef on hold and not to use it. The school sent all its government beef back in the middle of that month and plans to use Callicrate Beef as its sole beef provider moving forward.

    Sanabria said cafeteria staff had been asking her before the recall if the school could switch to Callicrate Beef. She didn’t know if Corpus Christi could afford the company, but she said the school got a good deal to receive ground beef and patties from Callicrate Beef.

    “The ladies that work here, they don’t eat anything but Ranch Foods Direct,” said Sanabria, who is a member of Corpus Christi Parish.

    Callicrate said parents need to hold schools accountable for what goes into students’ lunches.

    “Parents have to stand up and say, ‘I want my child to have better food at school,’” said Callicrate, noting that parents should be prepared to stand their ground and expect arguments that increased quality means increased costs. “The bottom line is this industrialized model of agriculture has managed to externalize a lot of the costs: costs of a living wage, environmental costs, losing our domestic food system. Parents have to be willing to stand up and say that they will not pay for fake, industrialized food.”

    Sanabria said the school let parents know in its weekly newsletter that Callicrate Beef was the new supplier. She reported that several students who previously did not get hot lunches at the school have begun ordering meals.

    According to Callicrate, cheap, processed food takes a toll on a child’s learning ability, and he lamented the fact that children are given unhealthy food and expected to perform at a high academic level.

    “When we send our kids off to school with a Mountain Dew and Snickers bar, it’s not cutting it. We’ve got to get them back to whole foods,” said Callicrate, noting that many cafeterias are serving processed ready-to-eat meals rather than having lunchroom staffs that can prepare hot meals from scratch.

    Sanabria said she feels confident that children are now getting high-quality beef for hot lunches, and that she has removed the burden of concern about tainted meat.

    “I love these kids, and I don’t want any of them getting sick. Now I don’t have to worry about that,” she said.

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