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Historic recall highlights food safety.

After the largest beef recall in American history, Westland/Hallmark Meat Company's reputation is not the only thing at stake. The company's Chino, California plant, which recalled 143 million pounds of beef in February, has closed due to charges that the some of the beef could be contaminated with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), a.k.a., "Mad Cow Disease."

The recall was the result of an undercover investigation that revealed horrifying video footage of "downer" cattle--cows so sick that they cannot stand and are more likely to carry BSE--being poked, prodded, electrocuted and forced to stand in order to be slaughtered in the Chino facility. Although the company and the USDA were supposed to assure that no "downed" cattle were slaughtered for human consumption, the footage proved that the company was disregarding that safeguard.

The video was obtained by the Humane Society and became public. Widespread outcry ensued, demanding that the entire beef industry not only take every precaution necessary to prevent the disease, but also assure that the animals are treated humanely. Major restaurants and grocery chains, from Denny's to Safeway, are requiring that eggs and meat come from producers that reduce animal suffering.

The owner and president of Westland/Hallmark, Steve Mendell, was also subpeoned by a House subcommittee investigating matter after he declined to voluntarily appear for testimony. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), who chairs the committee overseeing the investigation, announced that it "will not tolerate stonewalling."


America's farmers are no strangers to risk management. The USDA issues multiple tools to familiarize farmers with the five primary sources of risk: production, marketing, finance, legal and human resources. In 2003, the USDA announced the discovery of a cow with BSE in Washington state. Immediately, the secretary of agriculture announced several steps to ensure that affected meat would not reach humans--including the removal of "downed" cattle from the human food supply.

At the agency's request, the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis (HCRA) developed a simulation model to analyze the spread of BSE among U.S. cattle. Among other findings, the HCRA concluded that removing downer cattle would reduce potential human exposure.

Mark Powell of the USDA Office of Risk Assessment and Cost Benefit Analysis also created "The International Office of Epizootics Standard for BSE" in 2005. "The objective is ... to ensure that a balance is achieved between a country's desire to minimize the likelihood of frequency of disease incursions and their consequences, and its desire to import commodities and fulfill its obligations under international trade agreements," he wrote.

New software programs such as National Food Safety, developed by FoodLogiQ, help the entire food industry--"from growers to grocers"--keep products safe and processes in compliance with government regulations and laws.

The Westland/Hallmark Meat Company, one of the nation's largest suppliers of beef, was only one of the recent meat, egg or poultry plants to go under. In 2007, the USDA suspended 66 plants, 12 of which were related to inhumane treatment of animals.
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Title Annotation:Forefront
Author:Gabel, Pearl
Publication:Risk Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2008
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