Latest Recall Reveals USDA‚ Failure to Tackle Persistent Problems at Nebraska Beef
Statement by Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director
The current 5.3 million pound recall of beef products from Nebraska Beef clearly illustrates the error made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture‚ Food Safety and Inspection (FSIS) in 2003 when it failed to appeal a questionable court decision that allowed the company to stay open in spite of unsanitary conditions. In that January 2003 decision, Federal District Court Judge Joseph Battalion ruled that the company would suffer substantial and ongoing irreparable harm if FSIS shut down the operation of that firm until it could comply with basic food safety requirements. Instead of appealing that dubious court decision or asking Congress to strengthen its authority, FSIS chose to negotiate a deal with the company so it could continue to operate under additional scrutiny by the agency.
Clearly that additional scrutiny is not working. In August 2006, Nebraska Beef products were implicated in the illness of seventeen people in Minnesota who consumed ground beef that was contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7. Now 41 reported illnesses in Michigan and Ohio are tied to products from Nebraska Beef. The resulting 5.3 million pound recall of Nebraska Beef products underscores the agency‚ inability to deal effectively with the bad actors in the meat industry or to protect consumers adequately.
The implementation of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) program was supposedly designed to make companies more responsible for the safety of their products. But the continued problems at Nebraska Beef are making a mockery of the agency‚ ability to regulate under HACCP.
USDA needs the authority to shut down a plant if they find unsanitary conditions or a failure to follow food safety plans. Congress must give USDA the necessary authority to avoid future scenarios like this one at plants with persistent food safety problems.”