Was Massive Beef Recall Caused By Dairy Cows With Eye Cancer?

We know that millions of pounds of beef that came through a California slaughterhouse and meat processing plant have been recalled because the plant “processed diseased and unsound animals.” Well, okay, but what does that mean? We don’t know that for sure yet, but the Village Voice talked to one rancher whose entire 2013 output is part of that massive recall.

Hannah Palmer Egan wanted to know: what “disease” did those animals have? What, exactly, made them unfit for human consumption?

Bill Niman of BN Ranch used the plant, Rancho Feeding Corp., for the slaughter of his cattle, and has spoken to other local people in the industry. He points out that Rancho happens to process retired dairy cows, which tend to be older and thus sicker than the relative youngsters raised for meat. One disease that’s obvious to inspectors and should be obvious to farmers is ocular squamous cell carcinoma. Simply put: cancer eye. (Click here for pictures, but don’t say you weren’t warned. You’ll see why these tumors should be obvious to farmers before they send the cows for slaughter.)

This cancer exists in a variety of animals–people get it, too–but is common in certain breeds of cattle for some reason that farmers would really, really like to figure out and prevent.

Niman wonders whether dairy farmers sent over cows with cancer eye, and the proper procedure wasn’t followed. A USDA veterinarian is supposed to check whether the cancer has spread and how far, and determine whether the cancer-free parts of the cow’s body can still be butchered and sold. A longtime USDA inspector told Egan that if the process isn’t followed precisely, that renders the whole carcass “unfit for human consumption.”

Other experts–who, for transparency’s sake, are small-scale butchers and farmers–point out that while the huge recall figures make us picture Dumpsters full of beef heading for the incinerator, most of the meat in these recalls has already been distributed and won’t be recovered.

The “disease” could be ocular cancer, or could be something else. We don’t know, because the USDA won’t elaborate yet, Rancho’s lawyers quite understandably won’t let employees talk to the media.

The recall probably won’t hurt Nestlé so much in the long run, but Niman says that losing all of his 2013 beef could destroy his business. Rancho handled slaughter for many small-scale meat producers in the Bay Area, who will have to haul their animals to more distant slaughterhouses if the facility shuts down.

Rancho Feeding Recall: Why Sick Dairy Cows Might Be to Blame [The Village Voice]

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