By Arianna Puopolo
Now a hamburger may give you more than some extra fat in your diet. The largest beef recall in the United States since 1999 was instated this February due to a risk of mad cow disease.
After a six-week undercover investigation of the Hallmark Meat Packing Company, 143 million pounds of beef was recalled.
The United States Humane Society conducted an investigation of the Packing Company and released a tape that revealed direct violations of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards in the slaughterhouse.
Paul Shapiro, senior director of the Factory Farming Campaign for the United States Humane Society hopes that the recall will remind people of some of the questionable conditions of animals slaughtered for human consumption.
“Many people don’t like to think about the treatment of animals in slaughter plants, but it’s a reality we have to grapple with,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro explained that the tape, which revealed cruelty such as the electrocution of cattle, was initially held by the request of San Bernardino authorities to conduct a thorough investigation.
The USDA mandates that cattle meant to be slaughtered and sold for human consumption must meet certain health standards before slaughter. The Hallmark Meat Packing Company violated the law when it used forms of torture to keep “downed” dairy cows — those that cannot stand on their own feet — in order to pass inspection.
“[The USDA] has a loophole that needs to be closed so that no crippled cow can go into the food chain,” Shapiro said.
Downed cows are more susceptible to diseases like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease. BSE has the potential to cause rapid brain deterioration, leading to the loss of physical and mental control in animals.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare neurological condition is the variant of mad cow disease, which can develop in humans who consume meat contaminated with BSE.
Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, said that the risk of someone getting mad cow disease is minimal.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, three outbreaks of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease have been recorded in the United States since 2005.
Regardless, the Hallmark Meat Packing Company is in direct violation of the Humane Slaughter Act, Grandin said.
“Responsible dairy farms market their cows when they’re still in good shape,” Grandin said. “The dairy industry needs to clean up its act.”
To help prevent any similar events from occurring in the future, Grandin encourages grocery stores and other producers to regulate and oversee their meat suppliers.
Tim Galarneau, founding co-chair of the UCSC Student Environmental Center, attributes the recent recall to the public’s lack of knowledge of the source of produce on grocery store shelves.
“There’s a lot that goes on before that meat is wrapped up in Styrofoam and plastic,” Galarneau said.
Galarneau considers being able to identify the source of the produce sold in grocery stores to be one of the most important ways to ensure accountability to the suppliers.
“The more that Americans, community members and students continue to demand more traceability and greater values in meat production, the more we can start to see shifts in the system,” he said.