American Meat Institute President J. Patrick Boyle testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies on Thursday. The subcommittee hearing was examining issues related to the Hallmark/Westland meat recall. Also testifying Thursday were USDA officials and representatives of the Humane Society of United States.
Boyle told the committee that there were many failures in the situation at Hallmark/Westland Meat Company; failures in plant practices, failures in inspection oversight and failures within the HSUS.
"There were clearly failures at the slaughtering facility," Boyle says. "Plant personnel did not comply with the Humane Slaughter Act or the Federal Meat Inspection Act. In the future all processing plant employees handling live animals should be certified for proficiency in proper animal handling procedures and have a thorough knowledge of the regulations."
Boyle suggested using the AMI animal handling guidelines and audit programs. He also stated that USDA must make sure everyone of its inspectors performing ante mortem inspections is certified in animal handling. Boyle also took to task the Humane Society who took the video of the violations at Hallmark Westland.
"Its failure to alert immediately federal authorities to the practices captured on their video prolonged, and almost even condoned, an illegal, inhumane practice and needlessly complicated the subsequent federal investigation," Boyle says. "One can reasonably ask how such gross abuse could go unnoticed by so many for so long, but one can also ask of the Humane Society how it could allow this abuse to continue for almost four months, while it edited its video for release to The Washington Post?"
Earlier this week HSUS brought a lawsuit against the USDA. If an animal passes inspection and then becomes non-ambulatory, USDA veterinarians can re-inspect the animal and in some cases, such as a broken leg can allow the animal to be slaughtered. HSUS charges that that the risk of BSE in those animals increases by 50%. Boyle says that lacks common sense and the numbers come from a study in the United Kingdom during the height of its BSE epidemic when hundreds of thousands of cattle tested positive.
"I don't find that argument persuasive as a reason for USDA to reconsider their very narrow exception to allow these animals to be re-inspected, re-evaluated and then under appropriate circumstances be processed for food," Boyles says. "We see no scientific or practical justification for the lawsuit."
Boyle also questioned the Food Safety and Inspection Services instituting a Class II recall. He says USDA is sending a mixed message by saying the meat poses only the remotest health risk, yet launched a record-setting recall that needlessly alarms American consumers and foreign trading partners.
"There is no doubt that rules matter and violations should have consequences. And for Hallmark/Westland there are severe consequences," Boyle says. "But from a public health perspective, risks matter too. In the future, under these circumstances, I believe USDA would be better advised to conduct an appropriate risk assessment before determining whether it should require a nationwide recall of a product when, according to (Ag) Secretary (Ed) Schafer, 'there is no reason to believe that there’s anything wrong with the beef.'"