The beef trust in the 21st century

More morality and ethics are needed in food production systems.

Last month, Westland/Hallmark Meat Company of California recalled 143 million pounds of beef – the largest in U.S. history.

More than 37 million pounds of suspect beef has gone to U.S. schools in the past two years. Schools in St. Paul had nearly 21 tons of the questionable meat, the most of any Minnesota school district. Since the beginning of this school year, students and staff in St. Paul schools have eaten more than 17,000 pounds of recalled beef.

The meat in question comes from “downer” cows that could not walk into the Westland/Hallmark slaughter facility under their own power. “Downer” cattle are at higher risk for E. coli and salmonella contamination, as well as mad cow disease.

In order to process the ailing cattle, Westland/Hallmark Meat Company workers were caught on film kicking sick cows and using forklifts to force-walk them to their slaughter.

The federal government had already banned “downer” cows from the food supply; it is the United States Department of Agriculture that failed to take notice of Westland/Hallmark’s neglect and abuse.

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture ensures the safety of beef, it also advocate for farmers, attempting to keep costs low for consumers, especially schools. But budget cuts by the Bush administration have strained the USDA as well as the Food and Drug Administration. In the past few years, there has been an unusual number of outbreaks – contaminated spinach, poisoned pet food and tainted fish – in addition to recalled beef.

Since 2000, the fast-food and meatpacking industries have given about four-fifths of their political donations to Republican candidates for national office. In return, the previous chief of staff at the USDA was the beef industry’s chief lobbyist. Also, the former head of the FDA used to be an executive at the National Food Processors Association.

In “The Jungle,” Upton Sinclair called it “The Beef Trust.” We now find our own meatpacking industry adhering to the same unhealthy standards, only we are now in the turn of the 20th century.