Mad Cow Beef Recall 4 Times
Larger Than Reported
38,000 Pounds Targeted In Mad Cow Case; 17,000 May Have Been Eaten

By Phuong Cat Le
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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 Department said.
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 public.
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 Drug Administration.
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 or
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