Mailbag: Suspect beef

Many school districts and other recipients of federal food and nutritional program food have pulled beef off their menu, after some undercover video (view here) at a California slaughterhouse showed cows, that were unable to stand, being prodded to get them into a slaughterhouse. The concern is the beef from sick cows ended up on your kid’s cafeteria tray.

An MPR listener/reader who is a school nurse writes, “How long has the supect beef been in circulation, how long have the school districts been receiving it, and serving it to students? Is any of the suspect beef that has been set aside being tested by the State Health Department or any other governmental agency? What is the State Health Department doing about this, anything? What should a parent of a student who may have ingested the suspect beef know, in terms of when ill effects might appear?

Q: Is it possible beef from the plant ended up in the cafeteria?

A: Yes. Westland Meat Company shipped 240,000 pounds of the beef to Minnesota. according Christine Dufour, a spokeswoman for the Education Department. An Excel spreadsheet listing the schools can be found here. Says Randy Wanke at the Department of Education, “We are in the process of working with distributors of this product to I.D. which districts have received this product. We will contact those districts that have received this product to let them know if they have received this product. Since we are dealing with 240,000 pounds of meat, we expect this process to take a few days.”

Q: Are there any reports of kids becoming sick from tainted beef?

A: No. There isn’t even evidence that the beef is tainted.

Q: Is the Department of Health testing the beef?

A: No. “We wouldn’t be involved unless there was some human illness associated with the beef,” according to spokesman Buddy Ferguson at the Minnesota Department of Health. There are no known cases of anyone getting sick from the beef.

Q: Why didn’t the government recall the beef?

A: The USDA ordered a “hold” rather than a “recall” on the beef because the government is primarily investigating the inhumane treatment of animals.

Q: How come the Humane Society was able to see the sick animals, but the USDA didn’t?

A: There are plenty of questions about the USDA’s inspection program. Last year, a USDA undersecretary admitted to a congressional committee that for three decades, U.S. inspectors visited 250 meat processing plants as rarely as once every two weeks despite federal law requiring daily inspection. He promised the practice would end “damn soon.”

Q: What should we look for in kids?

A: Again, there are no reports of any tainted beef actually being in the food supply. E. coli is the most common form of food illness. Symptoms include bad stomach cramps and belly pain, vomiting, and diarrhea, sometimes with blood in it. The illness is usually associated with undercooked meat. You can find more here.

But the main reason for keeping “downed cows” out of the food supply is they may harbor mad cow disease. mad cow disease, which is caused by a virus-like infectious particle that can cause a fatal brain disease in people. Find information on it here.

Q: How do we know what beef is involved?

A: “This is what we are telling districts to look for,” says Randy Wanke, spokesman for the Department of Education. “The United States Department of Agriculture has issued a hold on the use of A608, Fine Ground Beef 40 Lb cases supplied by Westland Meat Co/ Hallmark Meat Co. This product was distributed in school year (SY) 2007-2008 (2008) on 10/26/2007 and in SY 2006-2007 (2007) on 1/12/2007, 1/22/2007 and 1/30/2007.”

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