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That's right. 143 million pounds of tainted beef from Westland/Hallmark has been recalled, but if you ate any of it, chances are you don't know it.

But you could. The USDA knows which stores and locations got the potentially malignant meat but the info is supposedly confidential. However, the USDA itself has been sitting on a "rule change" for a couple of years that would allow them to divulge the actual locations where bad meat might have been distributed. Right now, the only thing that's public knowledge is the "lot numbers" on the meat packages. And when was the last time you paid any attention to the lot numbers on your burger patties -- or anything else for that matter? Making matters worse -- much of the bad beef was distributed to schools across the nation.

This shocking revelation comes just today from Consumers Union, in the wake of yesterday's story about the biggest beef recall in our nation's history. The story actually first popped up this year when the Humane Society revealed video that showed "downer" cows being made to stand up through use of electric prods, forklifts and other means so that inspectors would allow the cows to be used in the beef intended for human consumption. See the video here. When a cow can't stand up -- a "downer" -- it often means that the animal is ill -- or could have mad cow disease -- and it's against the law to allow those cows to be used in things like beef patties.

Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumers Union, noted, in a press release issued just an hour ago,that when it comes to recalled meat, there is no easy answer to "Where's the beef?"

"A consumer must search through dozens of lot numbers on the USDA website. Many of the Westland/Hallmark shipments were in large lots, so the information about the source of the meat may not appear on the retail package. If a store or consumer has discarded the meat package, there is no way to track back the meat," she said.

Last week, a coalition of groups asked USDA to disclose retail outlets carrying tainted beef. In
March 2006, USDA proposed to change its rules and disclose the names of retailers involved in meat recalls, but has yet to take final action. The group asked Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer for an immediate change in policy. A copy of the letter can be found here.

Of course, this latest recall brings up a number of nasty political issues that have simply pervaded everything this Bush administration has hacked its way through. Enforcement -- well, there's hardly any enforcement of any regulations on the federal level any more, for anything. How about all that lead in toys coming from China and other places? Where are the inspectors? The answer -- hardly any inspectors at all; same thing here with the tainted beef and the USDA.

Americans have to realize that this is exactly where our tax money SHOULD be spent -- and what we have now is rampant privateering with no accountability to anyone. Do you also know that the USDA has NO AUTHORITY to recall tainted food? The company itself has to issue a recall. The truth -- no one's protecting us from any of these nasty hazards.

But you can do something about this latest atrocity right now. Call the USDA's press office: 202-720-4623 and tell them that Agriculture Secretary Schafer needs to approve the rule change IMMEDIATELY that would give consumers access to the information they need to determine if they've eaten any of the bad meat. At least it's a start.

 

Follow Linda Cronin-Gross on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lindacgross@twi