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It Happened Again

Written by Dennis Sun
The USDA has issued another recall, this time directed at beef from a processing plant in Chino, Calif. It is being called the largest meat recall in history and amounts to 143 million pounds. Around 37 million pounds of the recalled hamburger have already been delivered and consumed at school lunchrooms across the country.

The recall was instigated by two employees at the Chino packing plant trying to get two downer cows up on their feet and onto the kill floor. All the while, someone from the animal rights group PETA was filming the action. The cows had passed an initial ante-mortem inspection, but had gone down before slaughter.

These men’s actions were just plain stupid and will affect all of us in the beef business. The USDA had no choice but to issue the Class II recall, not because the meat was bad, but because the cows had not received complete and proper inspection by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) after becoming non-ambulatory following the ante-mortem inspection. An investigation will sort out whether it was the workers’ fault alone or whether the FSIS inspector and the plant are also to blame.

In the meantime, we are going to have to watch this action over and over on TV. Because of the school lunch program involvement, it has really become emotional. The national press just feeds on issues like this one. Commentators have a tendency to become instant experts on meat safety.

This stupid action should never have happened. There are numerous ways to deal with downer cows, but the associated health issues have been blown out of proportion. I understand the District Attorney in the Chino area has filed felony animal cruelty charges against the two employees fired by the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company. We all support that action.

We have all visited with the public, telling them how America’s beef is the safest and best in the world. How do we tell someone at the grocery store we have a failure-proof program to ensure beef safety when events like what took place in Chino are played over and over on the news? That becomes even harder when you consider the abundance of cheap chicken and pork now in the meat counter.

In this day and age, the American public has no understanding of livestock handling. To them the downer cow was a result of the abuse. I can trip off the street corner and break my leg and it’s just life, but with animals and the American public these days it’s an entirely different story. They’re more likely to see things the Walt Disney way. Most of us nowadays are really careful handling our livestock both for good business reasons and the public image of our industry. Those in rodeo are the most careful and it hasn’t been easy for them because the camera is always on.

I hope the processing facility in question doesn’t go out of business. That would double the hardship for area ranchers and dairy farms. We in Wyoming know all too well how hard it is to find markets for older cows and bulls. Hopefully this past week there have been numerous trainings on proper animal treatment in the pens behind our nation’s harvesting facilities.

Dennis