Saturday, February 02, 2008

Thanks, USDA

I have not been a fan of the USDA's approach to beef regulations for a while, mostly because they allow for too much that is unsafe. The USDA allows the slaughterhouse environment to be viewed on par with a production assembly line. This, of course, is crazy, since one sick, injured, or infected cow being slaughtered with any equipment that is subsequently used without being sterilized, as is allowed and employed in practice, can affect -infect- thousands of pounds of beef. When slaughterhouses are meant to obey USDA rules, responsibility is generally left to the slaughterhouses to make sure those rules are followed, with little to no interaction from the government. What follows when half-assed rules are half-assed practiced? Beef with E. Coli, Mad Cow, and other infections hit the market.

One of the rules imposed by the USDA is that downer cows are not to be slaughtered since a)they are probably rolling around in shit, and b) some part of them is broken, infected, or the cow is sick. So when a Humane Society video popped up this week of sick cows being brutalized, then lead to slaughter, those who harbor suspiscions and doubt about the safety of American beef gained more sad evidence that the USDA's policies and enforcement do not protect consumers adequately. What's really terrible in this whole latest episode is that the bulk of the beef from the slaughterhouses in the video is used for school lunch programs.

The crazy part here is that workers at the offending slaughterhouse very likely do this kind of crap a lot. Let's all understand that this is not an isolated incident and only at this facility. After the video was shown, the abusers were fired and the offending company "got on" investigating the problem. They will offer a "voluntary" recall of the meat likely involved in this lone incident, declaring that they have taken swift and immediate action. While they will suffer through being watched by the USDA with a scrutiny only a few other slaughterhouses have felt, the problem is that USDA scrutiny, along with willful and a wide-ranging disregard for barely useful USDA rules by slaughterhouses, does not lead to safe meat. The problem will not be solved until those in charge recognize that cattle swinging by on a production line are not like electronics or other mass produced goods, and taking money from powerful ranchers associations and lobbyists does not change that fact. One infection on one cow not caught by an inspector compromises thousands of pounds of beef. When hundreds of possibly sick cows, on a daily basis, are taken from rolling in shit to slaughter, well, that's not too good.

I eat beef, but I make sure I know where it comes from. I don't trust anything with a USDA stamp anymore.

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