Company officials released a written statement saying that, “While the Food Safety and Inspection Service says it has no indication that food safety has been compromised at our facility, we recognize that the decision by our customers is a standard business practice and understand their concerns.”
Searching for the real cause
The issue here isn’t yet another incident of clandestine activist videography. That’s become the anti-industry’s go-to tool for all the tools they recruit to do their dirty work.
Nor is food safety something that needs to be bantered about. Regulators, industry officials and animal welfare experts all understand that non-ambulatory animals are rarely afflicted with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, not to mention that regulations in place for nearly 10 years now require removal from the food chain of central nervous system tissue from all cattle, ambulatory or not.
Nobody’s going to be exposed to mad cow from eating a hamburger made of meat sourced from this or any other U.S. beef plant.
Nor is the problem all about poorly trained workers or tone-deaf owners. Both of those situations exacerbate the problem, but the cause of the practices captured on video lies elsewhere: The dairy industry.
When cows are bred and managed to maximize production, the result is far too many animals that end their “careers” as milk producers weak, worn out and often struggling to remain ambulatory during transport to the increasingly few, distant cow plants. Virtually every one of the cull cow operations left in business runs on incredibly thin margins—how’d you like to balance the books on 40-cents-a-pound ground beef?—and the loss of even a handful of cows jeopardizes the plant’s bottom line.
Central Meat Company owners Lawrence and Brian Coelhohave stated that their company is going to work with animal welfare experts to improve in-plant practices and increase the use of video monitoring to ensure compliance with handling standards.
That’s all well and good—and necessary.
But it’s even more urgent for the entire beef industry—not just the neglected stepsister cow killing plants—to focus upstream and insist on stricter standards for dairy operators. Most are careful, conscientious managers, but in addition to the occasional bad actor, the system itself is problematic.
The dairy industry could mitigate the problem of non-ambulatory cows itself with earlier culls and more aggressive programs to ensure that the animals have outdoor access, and thus exercise, throughout their productive lives.