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Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society, Inc.
38 East Market Street, Rhinebeck, New York 12572 USA -  845-876-2626
Vegetarian - Vegan - Animal Rights - Health - Nutrition - Environment

The mission of the Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society, Inc. is to promote the vegetarian ethic in the Mid-Hudson (New York) region, educate the community and aid anyone in the pursuit of a totally vegetarian (vegan) cruelty-free and healthful lifestyle.

Newsletters - Summer 2008 Issue

Whole Foods poisoning: what you may not know

By Jim Van Alstine

Whole Foods Market announced August 8 a recall of beef due to possible E. Coli contamination. The action followed an earlier recall of beef by conventional supermarket chains. All the recalls stemmed from E. Coli contamination originating in the same processing plant operated by Nebraska Beef.

In its media release, Whole Foods tersely blamed the supplier, Coleman Natural Beef, for the contamination. Whole Foods went on to marginalize the matter by describing Coleman as "a relatively small supplier for Whole Foods Market."1

Yet the recall was far from small. The tainted boutique beef is believed to have sickened people in two states. Whole Foods extended the recall to 28 states, Washington, D.C. and Canada.

Responding to the recall, Coleman Natural Foods issued a state­ment reminding consumers that they had sold the Coleman Natural Beef product line to Meyer Natural Angus on June 1, 2008. Meyer Natural Angus has not made a statement on the recall.

Meyer Natural Angus boasts its products are "Certified Humane," a controversial animal welfare standards labeling scheme supported by the Humane Society of the United States. The Certified Humane web­site even spotlights Meyer as an exemplary "farm." For the pro and con on Certified Humane, visit the websites shown in the footnotes2

The recall was conducted III accordance with procedures outlined by the Food Safety and Inspection in USDA's strategic plan, which places agricultural economic Service (FSIS) of the United States Department of Agriculture development ahead of food safety, health and the environment.' (USDA). The event serves as a pointed reminder that high-priced retailing and designer labeling of animal products are no assur­ance of improved food safety. Since the incident involved five retail chains, four food companies, one government agency and a non-profit animal welfare consortium, an average beef con­sumer is likely to grow foggy over the details and loose all inter­est before you can say, "Do you want fries with that?"

Federal alphabet soup

While Americans were sweating out the poison tomatoes scare, (Oops. Make that jalapenos) the FSIS rather quietly issues 15 meat recalls.3

A typical consumer may remember the February recall of Hallmark/Westland beef because it came with graphic images (captured by HSUS) of downed dairy cows being rammed with forklifts. Some have the Whole Foods recall freshly in mind. Few know about the other 13 recalls. These recalls were not minor incidents. One involved nearly a million pounds of cattle heads recalled due to possible BSE (mad cow disease) risk.

In contrast, the tomato, er, jalapeno scare is still the stuff of water-cooler conversation. Similarly the spinach scandal and green onion debacle of recent years are still culturally memorable. These incidents loom large despite the fact that about 70 percent of U.S. food poisoning cases are linked to meat products.4

A note in defense of spinach, jalapenos and whatever veggie may take the rap next: Salmonella and E. Coli contamination are not endemic nor historically common in row crops. The recent taint­ed crop incidences may be traced to excessive, mismanaged application of animal-based fertilizers. The over-application of these is a by-product of the ever-increasing volume of manure that must be dealt with as a result of increasing animal product consumption.

Brace yourself. Here comes a primer in federal bureaucracy. There is a reason there is much adieu about jalapenos and nary a word about a million pounds of cattle heads; divergent bureaucratic cultures. Recalls of vegetables are the purview of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has as its core mission the protection of U.S. residents from unsafe foods and drugs. Recalls of meat, poultry and processed egg products are the purview of USDA through FSIS. USDA has as its principal focus advancement of U.S. agricultural economic interests. This agribusiness first priority is unabashedly displayed in USDA’s strategic plan, which places agricultural economic development ahead of food safety, health and the environment.5

Obviously, widespread knowledge and long-term consumer memory of meat recalls would be bad for agribusiness and, therefore, contradictory to the USDA raison d' etre. All this may be good to know, but it is very heady material for a vegan to use in everyday life when confronted with a meat-eaters retort of, "oh yeah, what about the spinach?"

Just take a deep, deep breath and try to explain.

1. http://media.wholefoodsmarket.comlpr/wf/national/8-8-08 ground­beefrecall.aspx

2. http://www.certifiedhumane.coml http://www.certifiedhumane.com/farm-meyer.html and http://www.humanemyth.org/mediabase/1065.htm

3. http://www.fsis.usda.govlFsis_Recalls/Open_Federal_ Cases/index.asp

4. http://www.nj.comlspecialprojects/index.ssf?/specialprojectsl plague/plague2.html

5. (http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/mimedetector?navid= PLUGINS&url=http://www.usda.gov/ocfo/usdasp/pdf/sp2002.pdf&typ e=http://www.usda.gov/ocfo/usdasp/pdf/sp2002.pdf). 

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