On Sunday, Feb. 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recalled 143 million pounds of beef making it the largest beef recall in U.S. history. All beef produced by the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co., a southern California slaughterhouse, since Feb. 1, 2006, has been recalled. Of this meat, 37 million pounds were sent to school lunch programs. Though the USDA believes that most of this meat has already been eaten, “recalls of this kind extend as far back as there is evidence of safety violations” (Slate). According to Fox News, many of the slaughtered animals were what the meat industry refers to as “downers”—animals that are too sick or injured to be used as meat for human consumption. These animals were reportedly abused as they were prodded into the slaughterhouse.
Roughly 150 school districts and two fast-food chains have stopped ordering beef from Westland, and the USDA is planning to further investigate the animal cruelty allegations. The president of Westland issued a statement on Feb. 3 saying that the company complies with all USDA regulations. Westland undoubtedly will have to work hard to regain its reputable image, and this situation leaves consumers wondering how was the USDA unaware of Westland’s procedures for two years?
Taryn’s opinion: This situation creates a public relations problem for two entities: Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As noted above, Westland has already lost the business of 150 school districts and two fast-food chains. With the public knowing that these practices have been going on for at least two years (it could be longer, but the USDA only requires slaughterhouses to keep records for two years), it will be incredibly difficult for the company to regain its reputation for quality. Westland’s biggest mistake is its lack of crisis management. The company’s spokesperson was not available for an immediate comment, and the company has not issued any major statements thus far. The USDA has handled the situation much better. The Department has been available for comment and has assured consumers it will immediately investigate the situation. However, the USDA still needs to allay the concern across America that it is not adequately doing its job. It is inexcusable that these practices have continued for the past two years without the USDA being aware of the situation. As for me, I wonder what else the USDA inspections have overlooked.
Katie’s opinion: I’ll have the veggie soup and salad combo for dinner tonight. Perhaps the worst part of this bestial monstrosity is that the mystery remains not only in the meatloaf, but also in the location of the bad meat. As of Friday, Feb. 22, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has yet to release the names of the companies that have received the moo-goo. Officials claim that this information concerns the businesses and their relationships with their retailers. Really? How many people think that “this information” concerns me, you and mad cow disease? And what puts the ketchup right on the hamburger is that officials are still searching for about 15 million pounds of meat. While I’m sure that the public relations situation could be worse, the USDA seriously needs to be more transparent. Trust is now the carnal issue between the consumers and the meat industry. Shutting down the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company was a good move, but it is not enough. Officials at the USDA report that the risk of illness from eating contaminated meat is low. However, they are not giving their publics a reason to believe them. And while I understand that no scandal could be big enough to keep America away from its Big Macs, an eager election year could pose a threat to the government program. Pressure is the last thing the USDA needs. Without a good, timely public relations strategy, the USDA stands to lose a lot of business and gain a lot of heat. The solution is simple. Build trust by being honest. If they keep up this murky behavior we’ve seen so far, the cows won’t be the only ones who are mad.
Taryn Ely and Katie Lynn McInnish
Wilson, Chris. (Feb. 19, 2008). Why Recall Two-Year-Old Ground Beef? Slate. Rerieved Feb. 20, 2008, from http:// www.slate.com/id/2184701/.
Associated Press. (Feb. 18, 2008). USDA Orders Largest-Ever Beef Recall After Alleged Animal Cruelty. Fox News. Retrieved Feb. 20, 2008, from http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,330985,00.html.