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Monday, February 18, 2008

Beef Recall and Presidential Politics

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced a massive recall of 143 million pounds of beef—four times larger than what was previously the biggest beef recall in the nation’s history—after revelations that sick and injured cows were abused in horrifying ways and fed to the nation’s school children and other consumers. Senator Hillary Clinton has become the first presidential candidate to voice concern over the downed cow scandal, and she released a statement last night which is reprinted here in its entirety:

“The news today of the largest beef recall in our nation’s history is yet another troubling reminder that we have done too little to protect our food supply.  This incident also reveals a danger to our children, since the Hallmark company is the second largest supplier to the U.S. School Lunch program.  I believe that American families should not have to worry about the safety of the food on their dinner tables or in their children's school lunches.  That is why I have long been calling for common-sense – and long-overdue – food safety reforms, building on my work in the Senate.  As President, I will fully fund our food safety system so that our inspectors have the resources and manpower they need to do their jobs.  I will create a single food safety to replace the patchwork of regulation we have now.  I will implement an effective recall system so that potentially tainted food immediately comes off of grocery store shelves and families receive instant notification.  I will strictly enforce safety rules and impose stiff criminal and civil penalties on violators.  And I will crack down on the slaughter of sick or injured cows, a practice which poses health risks to families and children.  Now more than ever, America needs a President who will deliver concrete reforms that fill the gaps in our food safety system.”

This isn’t the first presidential election in which downed animals have become part of the national discourse. In December 2003, the first cow in the United States tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or “mad cow disease”), and as humane groups had long predicted, the contaminated animal was a downer. Presidential candidates stumping on the campaign trail at that time—including Howard Dean, Dick Gephardt, and John Kerry—criticized the Bush administration for failing to protect the nation’s food supply.

Cow_downed3Four years later, the USDA’s regulations and policies still fail to adequately deter the type of inhumane handling this investigation and recall have demonstrated in graphic and appalling detail. The current rules—which undermine animal welfare and jeopardize human health—require immediate review and revision.

The next president can undertake vigorous policy and regulatory reforms that will uphold the spirit and the letter of our humane slaughter laws, and can redirect USDA resources to ensure that inspectors are observing animals and addressing any inhumane treatment on a continuous basis. Other presidential hopefuls should follow Clinton’s lead and send the message that the next administration will make it a priority to protect animal welfare and food safety.

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