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
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)
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.
2. http://www.certifiedhumane.coml http://www.certifiedhumane.com/farm-meyer.html
3. http://www.fsis.usda.govlFsis_Recalls/Open_Federal_ Cases/index.asp
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