Is a New Policy Behind USDA's Recall of 8.7 Million Pounds of Beef?

An entire year's worth of products from a California company is being pulled from the market.

(Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Feb 10, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

Nearly 9 million pounds of beef processed by Rancho Feeding Corp. in Petaluma, Calif., were recalled by the United States Department of Agriculture over the weekend. Wholesalers and retail establishments in California, Florida, Illinois, and Texas stocked the suspect meat.

In a press release issued on Saturday, the Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said the 8,742,700 pounds of beef were being recalled because the company “processed diseased and unsound animals and carried out these activities without the benefit or full benefit of federal inspection.”

While the weight figure—representing just over a year’s worth of beef products from the company—is certainly headline grabbing, the reason the USDA offered for initiating the recall is what Farm Sanctuary’s Gene Baur finds most intriguing. The founder of the animal rights group said, “The USDA in the past has explicitly said that diseased animals can be used for food.”

This despite the human health risks, such as those associated with mad cow disease, that can result from eating diseased animals. “I would like to hope that this is a new, stronger standard” regarding diseased animals entering the food chain, Baur said, but he thinks the lack of inspection at Rancho Feed Corp. played a major role in the decision. “It’s still common and legal for diseased animals to go into the food supply,” he said.

Ironically, according to the FSIS release, the uninspected products somehow bear the USDA mark of inspection. The recalled beef can be identified by the “EST. 527” present in the seal.

Despite Baur's second, more cautious explanation, this recall falls into Class I on USDA's risk scale, which is defined as a situation “where there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death.” The press release states unequivocally that “the products are adulterated, because they are unsound, unwholesome or otherwise are unfit for human food and must be removed from commerce,” suggesting that the "diseased and unsound" animals, and the health risks they may present, did factor into the decision. No illnesses have been reported as yet.