Mar 3, 2008
On February 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ordered a recall of 143 million pounds of beef that was processed in a slaughterhouse belonging to Westland/Hallmark Meat Company in Chino, California. One-fifth of the beef used in the National School Lunch Program came from that slaughterhouse. Millions of school children ate it every day.
It also supplied beef for several fast food chains.
The USDA did not act because it wanted to. An undercover video shot by a Humane Society worker showed how “downer” cows were prodded, shocked and even fork-lifted to their feet in order to get around the rule that “downer” cows cannot be slaughtered for human consumption. This rule is supposed to protect against BSE or “mad cow” disease. The public exposure forced the USDA to act.
The scandal also prodded politicians to hold hearings. Agriculture Department officials repeatedly told Congress that the beef was safe for consumers. As proof they cited no reported illnesses – yet!
And the media dutifully repeated the official assurances! As though we have all forgotten about “mad cow” disease.
A cow that cannot stand on its own must be assumed to have the “mad cow” brain infection until proven otherwise. The disease easily moves from cattle to humans. It is a very dangerous, treacherous disease because it takes years or even tens of years to develop in the human brain, to the point that it shows symptoms and can be diagnosed.
The USDA officials know all about this. There is no possible way they can assure the school children who have eaten suspect meat that they are safe, since the development of the disease is so slow. It’s as if the USDA had said, “It’s safe to breathe asbestos because you don’t get sick right away.”
It’s not simply one bad meatpacker. The Humane Society video simply shows business as usual in the nation’s major slaughterhouses. The USDA’s laxity aids and abets the profits-first, safety-last system common to all capitalist enterprises.
The schoolchildren aren’t the only ones who aren’t safe.