- The amount of meat subject to recall from the nation's
first case of mad cow disease was nearly four times larger than previously
reported and as much as 17,000 pounds may have been eaten, the U.S. Agriculture
- The beef recall expanded to 38,000 pounds from the initial
recall of 10,400 pounds issued Dec. 23, the day a Yakima County Holstein
was diagnosed with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE.
- Steve Cohen, spokesman with the USDA's Food Safety and
Inspection Service, said yesterday that at the time, authorities were more
focused on identifying and contacting outlets that may have received the
affected beef than in updating the amount of beef recalled.
- "The total amount was actually less important than
identifying the number of stores and other facilities that received the
product simply because the speed with which the recall was conducted was
the most important," Cohen said.
- The government did not publicize the new recall figure
until Feb. 9, when it posted the information on its Web site. And the government
never released a list of stores that received potentially contaminated
beef, angering consumer advocates who said the USDA should make that list
- Cohen said authorities were able to retrieve and destroy
about 21,000 pounds of recalled meat, while the rest, about 17,000 pounds,
may have been consumed or thrown out by consumers.
- Federal authorities have also retrieved nearly 4 million
pounds of meat and bone meal -- including tissues and other animal parts
-- that were sent to two Washington rendering facilities to be made into
poultry feed or industrial tallow.
- The final batch of that product was buried in state landfills
yesterday, said Charles Breen, Seattle district director for the Food and
- Government authorities have said repeatedly that the
beef recall was issued out of an "abundance of caution" and that
the meat posed relatively low risk to human health.
- Humans can develop a similar brain-wasting illness, variant
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, from consuming infected beef products.
- The Dec. 23 recall was set at 10,400 pounds, which included
meat from the infected Holstein and 19 other cows that were slaughtered
Dec. 9 at Vern's Moses Lake Meats.
- Vern's shipped the beef to Midway Meats, a deboning processor
in Centralia, which then sent it to two meat processors in Oregon, Willamette
Valley Meat Co. and Interstate Meat Distributors.
- Cohen said the affected beef from Vern's was mixed with
other meat to create 38,000 pounds of mostly hamburger. It was then shipped
to wholesalers and retailers in Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho,
Montana and Nevada. More than 575 businesses handled the meat, he said.
- Cohen said the government does not usually reimburse
companies for recalls. But in this case, he said, it would provide some
compensation for the cost of destroying the beef, although he declined
to say how much.
- The total amount also included about 3,000 pounds of
soup bones that were distributed to restaurants in California, which authorities
say were sold or used before the Dec. 23 recall.
- The USDA relies on companies to voluntarily recall products
and inform customers.
- Citing proprietary information, the agency never released
a list of stores that received the suspect beef.
- Federal authorities didn't even share that information
with Washington state health officials, said Tim Church, spokesman with
the state Health Department.
- The USDA will share such detailed information only with
states that have signed a "memorandum of understanding," and
Washington has not, Church said.
- The agreement allows the USDA to tell states which stores,
restaurants and markets receive recalled products but forbids them from
passing along the information to consumers.
- "If we can't share (the information), there's no
value," Church said.
- Karen Portman, who lives on Mercer Island, said she found
out about the recall from the media.
- She bought ground beef from a QFC store several days
before the recall and made stuffed green peppers.
- When she heard about the recall, she got QFC store officials
to track down whether she bought recalled beef. She had not.
- Still, she supports publicizing a list of stores and
added, "They should make it well-known so people are fully aware."
- - P-I reporter Phuong Cat Le can be reached at 206-448-8390
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