COMMENTARY – ON CORPORATE ACCOUNTABILITY – AND GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY – AND FOOD SAFETY – AND BROKEN TRUST

Meat is a Mystery to Schools – Massive Recall of Beef Using Federal Lunch Program – Hey, [Safe] Meat Really Matters to Moms and Kids!

 

Another troubling story about a company with a clear lack of accountability and sense of corporate responsibility, and a situation with minimal government oversight, this time from the food business.  A whopping 143 million pounds of beef were recalled this week, but only after disgusting confidential videos provided by the Humane Society appeared in the new media channels showing “downers” (very sick cows) being hustled around with fork lift trucks and pry bars to be processed into hamburgers.  Many hamburgers.  Figure tens of millions worth!  Fifty million pounds – literally tons and tons worth of beef — went for school lunches. That’s a lotta burgers for ingestion into the developing bodies of American youngsters, no?

 

It seems some 20 million pounds (that’s million of beef-tons if you’re keeping track here) were served in schools – at one-quarter pound per burger, maybe 80 million or more were therefore served hot in school cafeterias.  Where did the beef come from?  The USDA-supervised program which buys from the lowest bidder (in bulk) and coordinates distribution to school systems.  Do you know where your kid’s school lunches come from?

 

 

Neither do we — we really have no idea, really, about “where” the meat from these cows ended up – perhaps in the stomachs of some kids whose misfortune is to be from a low- income family, thereby entitling them to free or reduced-price lunch at school, which may be the most important meal of their day. (Times 30 million kids in the program.) Talk about a great divide, the elites who now run the government agencies in Washington and — and the rest of us!  Add one more consequence of growing up poor.

 

Then there are the reassuring words to help us get through this latest scare – do these “ring true” for you when you read or hear them?  You be the judge.

 

US Department of Agriculture (promoter of the subsidized beef program):

“…health risks are very, very remote…”

 

May be suggest the recalled beef be warmed up and served in the Washington headquarters of the USDA?  To every meat plant inspector from USDA for the next six months?  At the White House and Congressional mess?  (nahh…they don’t like that kind of meat.)

 

From the trade association flack:

 

“…no evidence meat was unsafe…patently false meat was unsafe or of inferior quality…”  No wonder some Washington DC spokespersons have so little credibility.  Send a truckload to the buffet tables at the American Meat Institute’s next “Annual Meat Conference” in March.  (We are too late for the AMI “Animal Care and Handling Conference” in February.)  “…we’re obviously feeding a lot of children subsidized lunches, so we’re trying to make sure we do that in a cost-effective, safe manner…”  Obviously…safe?  Cost effective = factory conditions?

 

Perhaps what the school program is really about is another way to subsidize American industry – says Mark Coplan, spokesman for the Berkeley school system (California): “…schools are held hostage…they offer you pennies per child…and you are forced to spend these on frozen products that subsidize farmers, meatpackers and meat producers…”

 

Ever read “The Jungle,” by the muckraking author Upton Sinclair?  If you serve food in institutional settings, you may want to get a reprint of the 1906 classic, which led in part to the establishment of the US Food & Drug Administration.  (Prairie State Books)  Then you might want to read “Mad Cow U.S.A. – Can it Happen Here?” by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber.  Good to be educated on these things.

 

Now, does this comment give you greater confidence in government oversight?

 

“…Hallmark/Westland Meat (the supplier) bought cheap dairy cows and processed them into ground beef, which does not get a USDA grade and tends to be the catchall for scraps and less lucrative cuts of meat…”  (Taxpayers save money – good!  We were beginning to worry about the federal deficit again.)

 

The following makes me feel better already:

 

“…video footage shows workers using electric prods and high pressure hoses to force weak and sick cattle to their feet to be slaughtered…cattle that cannot walk are banned from human food out of concerns of BSE – commonly known to us as Mad Cow Disease’

 

…says the Los Angeles Times.  We are hereby assured…no Mad Cows involved.

 

Of course we have to take the word of everyone with a profit or bonus at stake that, really, no such really sick cows were thus ground into little frozen patties.  Trust – it’s at the heart of our vast food system network, with millions of players providing us with the food we consume at home, in school, at work, in restaurants…break that trust…we all are in trouble.  And there have been too many situations of broken trust {re: food] recently.

 

 

Before you take another bite, utter the words “hope / hope / hope” – as the Chino Valley Unified School District (California) spokesperson says…”…I hope this is just one place.  I hope it’s not everywhere.  I hope the others all follow guidelines…”  Me too.  I’ll have a salad, thanks, with thoroughly scrubbed lettuce, hot washed tomatoes and cucumbers — and give it a: 50 second spin in the microwave. On second thought, make that popcorn.

 

Keeping hoping – and Stay Tuned – this is surely not the end of the bad food stories we’ll be reading.

 

Hank Boerner

 

Editor & Publisher

 

Accountability Central

 

Foot note:  Hallmark Meat Packing of Chino, California was the producer of the 143 million pounds of beef recalled.  This is a privately-owned firm. Click here for commentary of the company president, Steve Mendell, on the recall.   The company has “voluntarily” suspended operations pending completion of a USDA investigation.  Despite video evidence to the contrary, CEO Mindell says “…only ambulatory livestock may enter the harvest facility to be processed for human food…I am confident that we have meet this high regulatory (USDA enforced) standard…”

 

 

Link to company statement from Steve Mendall – President

 

Link to full story that was originally commented on

COMMENTARY ON THE US TOY INDUSTRY, CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY AND PRODUCT STEWARDSHIP

Good news for toy buyers this week – especially if the individual companies follow through with their new consumer market promises and clearly demonstrate greater corporate social responsibility in their design, manufacturing and marketing activities.. The US Toy Industry Association just announced a passel of new testing and quality control processes being put in place to help toymakers / consumer marketers avoid the kind of retailing debacle that occurred during the 2007 holiday season. Will safer toys now make their way to US retail outlets?  Stay tuned.

 

The American toy industry (sales are $22 billion) was really battered by rolling product recalls and spreading consumer buying-avoidance as more and more imported toys were found to contain lead and other materials dangerous to the health of infants and developing toddlers. And then yanked from retail shelves. Bad timing – much of this occurred before and during the big holiday buying season.

 

Now, at least the independent testing labs are going to enjoy a boom year as Wal-Mart, Toys-R-Us and other retailers test for lead paints on the surface of toys and as Mattel and other toy makers [promise to] increase their watch over the output of their thousands of offshore suppliers.  Toy marketers are hoping that consumer trust returns as they increase oversight and testing of products.

 

Would all this trouble have been avoided if more manufacturing had stayed in the USA?  We’ll never know.  But USA manufacturers and retail marketers alike have to recognize, accept and live with the rising “accountability and responsibility expectations” of American consumers.  The lesson for 2007:  Don’t mess with Moms and Grandmothers who care about the safety of things little ones play with or put in their mouths.  The American industry race to the bottom for cheaper wages, cheaper goods, cheaper prices at wholesale and then at retail should not include a race to the bottom for product safety, product stewardship and quality assurance as well.  That’s an expensive lesson that came out of Christmas buying, 2007.

 

The Accountability Central “Hot Topic” focus section for Toy Safety Imports will continue to focus on the issues surrounding imported toys and we’ll bring you updates on the industry’s progress and promises.  Remember that Chinese factories are continuing to pour out an estimated 80 percent of toys marketed in the United States and there is a long way to go in product assurance in that still-developing nation.  Geography may work against US marketers – the sourcing centers are still a l-o-n-g way off for thorough inspections and constant oversight by American marketers.  The importer (here) is responsible for goods coming off the fleet of ships from Chinese ports, and the final accountability rests with the retailer putting the colorful toys on shelves in your hometown.

 

There is a responsibility, we believe, for toy marketers to also begin to communicate more broadly on their progress they make and the safety of their toys to help answer the questions raised by consumers, such as the one presented by one of our readers in December…”I’m aware of toys, especially the ones from China, and leaded toys…and I am so confused [about] where or which toys I should buy…which ones are lead-free…”  Will toy marketers respond to these consumer concerns directly?  They should.  Perhaps the Toy Industry Association board which approved the testing and analysis procedures this week will also encourage more transparency and disclosure by all toy marketing players.  Stay Tuned!

 

 

Click here to read the full article that was commented on above

COMMENTARY ON DAVID WALKER STEPPING DOWN THIS WEEK AS HEAD OF THE GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE (GAO)

This is a sad day for the US government, and sadder still for all of us as taxpayers.  Taxpayers who have paid for greed, screwups, and general indeptitude by parties who have access to our tax dollars.

 

David Walker runs a non-partisan department (GAO) that usually responds to a Congressional request for an investigation or research effort so that we all can learn more about an issue, a concern, a topic.  The GAO has brought more misdeeds to our attention than any other government agency — misdeeds by government agencies, including screwups and cover ups; by corporations gaming the system and aiming for more corporate welfare payments; by foundations and not-for-profits, by the healthcare system players, including HMOs.  All these investative reports are available to you free if ou want to know more about how things went wrong — and recommendations on how they can be fixed or avoided in the fuure.

 

We should want a guy like Walker in charge given the un-accountability of many of our institutions in the public, private and social sectors.

 

Notice the name of this agency:  It was the Government “Accounting” Office, and under Walker it wsa changed to “Accountability” — very appropriate given the taxpayers’ rising expectations of greater accountability.

 

Wishing Mr. Walker well, we hope his successor will continue the high standards of non-partisan, independent, thorough, illimunating investigations that were a hallmark of his administration.

 

And we look forward to Mr. Walker’s continuing quest for greater accountability as head of the Peterson Foundation.

 

Hank Boerner
Editor & Publisher
Accountability Central