More than two weeks ago, Farm Aid blogged about an undercover video shot by the Humane Society of America of so-called downer cows (cows unable to stand due to illness or other incapacity) being physically mistreated and carried to slaughter on a fork lift. This practice at the slaughterhouse represents a clear violation of federal rules, which prohibit downer cows from entering the food supply. Downer cows are suspected as possible carriers of Mad Cow Disease, which is why they are banned.
Over the weekend the U.S. Department of Agriculture prompted the California-based Westland/Hallmark Meat Company to recall 143 million pounds of meat processed by the plant. This is a huge recall; the largest in U.S. history, but USDA officials admit it’ll have little effect because most of the meat has already been consumed.
And it’s not the recall that matters most here. What matters is the huge gap in USDA meat inspection services. There are 6,200 meat processing plants that fall under USDA jurisdiction, and just 1.2 meat inspectors for each plant. There are not enough inspectors to ensure the full safety of our meat supply, and given current federal budget constraints, it’s unlikely the USDA or the Bush Administration is going to go to bat for more meat inspectors anytime soon. For us consumers, that is troubling, because incidents like this can only raise doubts about the safety of our meat.
Consumers looking for safer sources of processed meat have started buying directly from family farmers who are raising grass fed and organic beef. These farmers are generally processing the meat closer to home and offering it to the public through direct sales, community supported agriculture programs and at some farmers markets. Buying locally from family farmers you know and trust is one way to step outside the industrial food system to exert some personal control over the food you buy and serve your family. Seems to me it’s a step worth taking.