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American Meat Institute Says Government Message is Clear: Beef Recall Stems From Non-Compliance with Inspection Procedures, Not Food Safety Concerns

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The announcement of a large beef recall today is unsettling, but the government has made clear that it is the result of non-compliance with inspection procedures, not food safety concerns, the American Meat Institute (AMI) said following a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) press conference.

“USDA’s message was clear: cattle inspection procedures were not followed and when they are not, product is considered ‘out of compliance’ and must be recalled,” said AMI Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and General Counsel Mark Dopp. He stressed USDA’s statement that all cattle processed by this plant passed the initial inspection to check their health, but that in some instances, when some cattle later became unable to walk, the USDA veterinarian should have been called again to reevaluate, but was not. Cattle can become non-ambulatory for a variety of reasons, including simple injury during movement. The fact that an animal becomes not ambulatory does not necessarily mean it is ill.

“It is important to note that the government has found no evidence that the meat was unsafe and has appropriately classified it as a ‘Class II recall,’ as opposed to a ‘Class I recall,’ which is used when there is a reasonable probability that a public health risk exists,” Dopp said.

There are numerous, interlocking food safety procedures in meat plants to ensure safety. These multiple procedures are there so that if one component fails, others will function as a back-up. Dopp underscored USDA’s statements that other interlocking food safety practices were working effectively. “This should reassure any consumers concerned about this action. The U.S. beef supply remains among the safest in the world,” he said.

Dopp condemned the handling practices depicted in an undercover video shot in the plant and released January 30 and said they stand in sharp contrast to typical animal handling practice in the meat industry. They also do not comply with the industry best practices included in the AMI Foundation Animal Handling Guidelines and Audit Guide, which are widely used by industry and endorsed by groups like the American Humane Association.

Dopp echoed earlier concerns expressed by AMI regarding the inappropriate delay by the Humane Society of the United States’ in alerting federal authorities to the practices captured on their video. “The original delay was unacceptable, prolonged a bad practice and complicated the federal investigation,” Dopp said. “This additional delay in turning over other relevant information is unconscionable. It has created weeks of uncertainty and needless concern for school districts nationwide.”

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