Was the meat really tainted?

February 25, 2008 9:51:43 PM PST
More than 100-million pounds of beef was destroyed due to concerns some tainted meet may have entered the food chain at a southern California slaughterhouse.

But was any of the meat every really bad? One expert testified in Sacramento on Monday, she doesn't think so.

The National Meat Association defended its industry on Monday to state lawmakers, saying the 143-million-pound beef recall was an over-reaction.

It says that beef was safe to eat and even serve to children, whose schools got 50 million pounds of it nationwide.

"No people have become ill from these products. We believe the resources that will have to be committed to this recall could be better spent elsewhere," said Rosemary Mucklow from the National Meat Association.

But schools around the country destroyed tons of beef. In Washington State, schools buried the possibly tainted beef in landfills, not wanting to take a chance.

The Meat Association insists the undercover video shot by the Humane Society shows a cow unable to stand because it's carrying too much milk and that workers in the Chino-based Westland/Hallmark Meat Packing Company failed to follow procedures.

Cows that can't stand are banned from the food supply because they carry a higher risk of disease.

"The company is required by regulation to tell USDA that the animal went down and have them go back and look again," said Mucklow.

But Senator Dean Florez points out it's easy to slip sick cows through because workers know how to avoid on-site federal inspectors.

"They know exactly when the inspectors are going to walk by. They know exactly when the inspector goes to lunch. They know when the inspector is going from the front of the facility to the back. They know exactly when to push some these downer cows through," said State Senator Dean Florez (D) Shafter.

Equally surprising, the state has no jurisdiction over most of the large slaughterhouses in California, so it can't help fill in some inspection gaps.

"Right now, we do not have authority at those plants. Federal law just totally has hierarchy over state law," said Dennis Thompson from the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Senator Florez has already introduced a bill that would require California slaughterhouses to install video cameras. That will get its first committee hearing in the coming weeks.