Texas Longhorns with newborn calf in Bluebonnets

Texas Longhorns with newborn calf in Bluebonnets

Please note I have a new phone number...


Alan Maki

Alan Maki
Doing research at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas

It's time to claim our Peace Dividend

It's time to claim our Peace Dividend

We need to beat swords into plowshares.

We need to beat swords into plowshares.

A program for real change...


What we need is a "21st Century Full Employment Act for Peace and Prosperity" which would make it a mandatory requirement that the president and Congress attain and maintain full employment.

"Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens"

- Ben Franklin

Let's talk...

Let's talk...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Tainted Meat Used in School Lunches

The scandal of tainted meat being intentionally sold for human consumption to school children is one more indication that the capitalist system which places corporate profit above all else has to go.

While George Bush and acquiescent Democrats have placed the health of millions of Americans at risk they have colluded to shred our constitutional rights in the name of fighting terrorism just like they grind up tainted hamburger from old diseased cows.

I think it is very obvious that where we really need surveillance equipment, and where telephones need to be tapped is in the corporate boardrooms.

In quest of corporate profits, the Wall Street coupon clippers have placed us all at risk.

These Wall Street coupon clippers are the real terrorists we need to fear.

The real crime of this "tainted meat scandal" is that of a moribund capitalist system which taints and contaminates everything associated with it.

We are not talking about something "accidental."

We are talking about shameful and disgraceful acts carried out by corporate executives with the express intent of making money... more money than even the "normal" thievery of the "free market" apologists excuse.

Noted author and "free market" adherent Alan Greenspan just writes off these kinds of dirty scandals as normal and routine.

Only under a system as diseased and stinking rotten as the old cows slaughtered and butchered in quest of maximum corporate profits to feed small school children would such criminal anti-human behavior be excused over and over again without putting all of this together with these dirty, murderous imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the wholesale contamination of the air we breath, the water we drink and the land we use to grow our food on along with the systematic exploitation and abuse of working people.

It is not coincidental that the very same politicians, their campaign contributors and their apologists will sit in silence as two-million casino workers are forced to endure employment in smoke-filled casinos at poverty wages without any rights at some four hundred casino/resorts spread out across this country where this tainted hamburger has been sold to casino patrons where there are no food inspections at all!

The time has come to say enough!

Enough of this rotten, corrupt capitalist system.

There is no way for humanity to survive under capitalism.

Something to think about: Throughout all of this, Minnesota's 7th Congressional District Congressman Collin Peterson (Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party) has been silent. Peterson was nominated by Mark Froemke a big-shot with the Minnesota/North Dakota AFL-CIO. Peterson and Froemke said we needed to elect Peterson because this Democrat who boasts that he is more conservative than most Republicans was next in line to become the Chair of the powerful House Committee on Agriculture, a position which he now holds that has netted him hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions and Peterson hasn't even had the decency to address this issue after over three weeks.

Comment: At the time Froemke nominated Peterson Froemke wasn't even a registered voter in Minnesota. Froemke has allowed the sugar beet processing industry to use and abuse workers in silence just as this AFL-CIO big shot has remained out of sight and in hiding along with Collin Peterson throughout this tainted meat scandal.

This tainted meat scandal is one more example of the epitome of the web of corruption which is spun when labor big-shots are more concerned with the corporate bottom line and cozying up to reactionary politicians than the wages and well-being of the working class.

With all the talk about our great "free media" there has been relatively little written about this scandal as newspapers and the media are more concerned with their advertising revenue from supermarkets... not to mention this is a big election year where these corporate candidates will spend more than ever before on advertising in newspapers, on radio and on television... no doubt the fact that the media has been so reticent to inform of fully about this scandal and the consequences to public health are a motivating factor behind the silence.

The two dirtiest words in our vocabulary are "corporate profits" and our great "free media" is afraid to talk about where those profits come from... and the price we really pay for the continuation of this rotten social and economic system which has elevated corporate profits to the level of some kind of sacred deity not to be criticized.




Some Tainted Meat Used in School Lunches, U.S. Says


Published: February 22, 2008

Days after the largest beef recall, the Agriculture Department said Thursday that more than a third of the contaminated meat had been used in federal nutrition programs, including school lunches.

Of the 143 million pounds of recalled meat, just over 50 million pounds was bought for use in the federal programs, the department said. About 20 million pounds of that has already been consumed. A further 15 million pounds has been located and will be destroyed, and officials are still searching for about 15 million pounds.

The meat was recalled on Sunday by a slaughterhouse in Chino, Calif., which had occasionally been allowing cows that could not walk to be butchered. Those animals, called downer cows, are banned from the human food supply because of increased risk of disease, including mad cow disease.

Most of the potentially tainted meat, about 93 million pounds, went to wholesalers who are assumed to have sold it to grocers and food processors. The Agriculture Department is contacting commercial customers of the meatpacker, the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company, to determine where the beef went and to try to recover as much as possible.

Despite demands from consumer groups, agriculture officials have refused to release the names of retail outlets that received the meat. The department says such information is proprietary, though it is pursuing a regulation that would allow retailers’ names to be publicized in future recalls.

The agency shut down Westland/Hallmark after the Humane Society of the United States released an undercover video on Jan. 31 that showed workers kicking and spraying water at cows and lifting them with forklifts.

The San Bernardino County district attorney has filed charges against two slaughterhouse workers for animal abuse. To date, there have been no reports of illness from the meat under recall order, and agriculture officials maintain that the risk is low.

Look at what has been going on--- all from the New York Times:


Hamburgers May Be Tainted With E. Coli


Published: September 27, 2007

Twenty-one people in eight states may have fallen ill after eating hamburgers possibly contaminated with E. coli, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The Topps Meat Company, based in Elizabeth, N.J., announced a recall on Tuesday of boxes of frozen hamburgers. The recall affects 331,582 pounds of frozen beef patties and 21 products distributed nationwide. Illnesses were reported in Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. A list of the recalled products is at www.toppsmeat.com.

THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE GAMBLE: The Risk of Self-Policing; New Safety Rules Fail to Stop Tainted Meat


Published: October 10, 2003

Government inspectors monitoring the automated processing line at the Shapiro Packing meat plant here over the past three years repeatedly discovered sides of beef mottled with cattle manure, a host for bacteria that can be deadly to consumers.

Last November the inspectors also found E. coli O157:H7, a dangerous bacterium spread by cattle waste, in hamburger and stopped a shipment waiting to go to public schools from a Shapiro meat-grinding facility. Yet the Department of Agriculture delayed more forceful action and never did more than threaten to shut the packing plant down.

The history of recurring violations at the Shapiro plant illustrates the weaknesses in a new food safety system that the department phased in nationwide from 1998 to 2000, say consumer groups, critics in Congress and some government inspectors.

Critics say the department's inspection arm, the Food Safety and Inspection Service, has been lax in enforcing safety procedures under the new program, even at plants with repeated violations.

Government audits, interviews with current and former inspectors and a close look at some of 113 meat recalls last year -- a record number -- show that the inspection service has been slow to establish guidelines for dealing with repeat offenders and has done a poor job of training its inspectors, leaving many uncertain when to take action.

As a result, the government has too often waited until meat became contaminated -- and people have become sick -- before forcing plants to make safety changes.

In years past, government inspectors patrolled the slaughterhouses, looking to reject, or condemn, carcasses with tumors and other obvious defects. In overhauling the system, the department expanded its focus to include a new and growing threat from invisible pathogens, and it placed the burden on companies to design their own rigorous safety plans.

Agriculture Department officials say they have made significant progress recently toward strengthening their monitoring and enforcement procedures.

''I'm confident that when we put the U.S.D.A. mark of inspection on a product that goes to the consumer that we're sure it is safe,'' said Dr. Garry L. McKee, the chief of the inspection service. ''The system is working.''

Many meat companies have made substantial safety improvements on their own. But though few consumers realize it, the government's weak enforcement has generated wide variations among meat suppliers, with some -- prodded by wary restaurant and grocery chains -- taking far greater precautions than others.

According to government inspection reports, on more than 50 days from early 2001 until July, inspectors at the Shapiro Packing plant found feces on carcasses moving down the processing line. Its meat ends up in schools, supermarkets and fast-food restaurants across the country.

On 11 days the inspectors at the plant even found the manure on numerous carcasses that had already been through special cleansing washes of hot water and acid.

Yet the Agriculture Department did not react more forcefully to the inspectors' reports until last July, when it threatened to stop the plant from operating. Even then, regulators allowed Shapiro to keep shipping, based on its pledges to correct procedures identified as the cause of the problems.

Shapiro says it removes any contamination and has never shipped unsafe meat. Dane Bernard, vice president for food safety at Keystone Foods, the private company that manages Shapiro Packing, said that the plant has fixed ''95 percent'' of the problems identified by department officials.

''We have not been putting the public at risk and that's the bottom line,'' Mr. Bernard said.

Even critics say that the concept of the new system, emphasizing illness prevention, is a big step in the right direction. But Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who is the ranking minority member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said that the Agriculture Department ''really doesn't have good enforcement procedures, and they don't have any clear standards for judging whether a company's plan is adequate or not.''

The department's top auditors agreed with that assessment in a report issued late last week, saying they ''question the adequacy'' of its programs ''that identify and control hazards to the production process.''

Delmer Jones, who retired in August as chairman of the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals, the government meat inspectors' union, was more scathing. ''Most any system will work and protect the consumer if you've got two things: teeth and enforcement,'' Mr. Jones said. But in many plants the safety plans are still just ''smoke and mirrors,'' he said.

Despite flaws in the system, the risk to consumers of falling ill from tainted meat remains low. Cooking hamburger to 160 degrees kills the bacteria.

Yet when contaminated meat is not properly cooked, the bacteria can be fatal; they are especially dangerous to the elderly and young children. Moreover, tracing tainted meat back to the plant where it was produced can be difficult. With the far-flung distribution networks of today, a single batch of bad meat can quickly cause illnesses in many states.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 5,000 people die, and 325,000 people are hospitalized, each year from food-borne illnesses.

The government's shift to the new safety system was driven by an E. coli outbreak that killed four children and sickened hundreds of people who had eaten hamburgers from Jack in the Box restaurants in late 1992 and early 1993. The outbreak showed that food-borne bacteria, which had long been thought to produce little more than a stomachache, now had the potential to kill.

The new system, known as the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point program, was meant to be more scientific than the ''poke and sniff'' methods that inspectors had used to search for tainted meat since the first meat-safety laws were adopted in 1906.

The new system, using research and new technology like the steam and acid carcass washes, is intended to protect against invisible scourges like salmonella and listeria, as well as E. coli O157:H7, which can get into raw hamburger meat from cattle feces.

The new rules shifted much of the responsibility for safety to the plants, requiring them to identify vulnerable points in their production lines and build in steps to kill germs. Under the new system, government inspectors -- who by law must be present when slaughterhouses operate -- look over workers' shoulders and make sometimes difficult judgments about how well the plants' safety measures are working.

Supporters of the new system say it brought a sharp decline in the frequency of illnesses caused by bacteria like Campylobacter, which is often found in chickens.
But the rate of illnesses from E. coli O157:H7 remained roughly the same in 2002 as it was in 1996, two years before the new safety system began, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- although preliminary figures do indicate a decline this year.

The Agriculture Department urges companies to make recalls when contaminated meat is discovered -- sometimes because people have fallen ill -- after it has been shipped to customers. The department does not have the authority to order a recall.

In the biggest recall last year, one woman died and at least 46 people were sickened from E. coli O157:H7 in beef ground at a ConAgra plant in Greeley, Colo. In the report last week, the Agriculture Department's inspector general disclosed that the plant, which was owned by ConAgra Foods Inc., had been cited 66 times for fecal contamination from January 2001 until it was temporarily closed last November.

Agriculture Department officials acknowledged that they were slow to emphasize enforcement, saying they were overwhelmed just trying to ensure that all of the nation's 5,000 meat and poultry plants devised their own safety plans.

Since last year, the officials say, the inspection service has expanded training for inspectors and issued new guidelines for taking action against plants that have recurring violations. Dr. McKee, who became administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service in July 2002, said the agency had sharply increased the number of serious enforcement actions, which include shutting down a plant, this year: 460 actions in the first nine months, as compared with 267 in all of 2002.

Shapiro executives say they know of no case of illness from Shapiro meat.

Experts describe Shapiro's troubles as not unlike those at many plants making the transition to the new rules.

Mr. Bernard, the Keystone executive, noted that Shapiro had closed the Augusta plant voluntarily one day in August for employee training. He also said the company had expanded its testing for E. coli O157:H7 and was now finding less of it than the government was finding on average in its tests at other plants. ''It is a plant that has problems,'' Mr. Bernard said, ''but it is not a problem plant.''

The Plant

Safety Violations By the Hundreds

Cattle trucks, arriving full and leaving empty, drive in a constant stream through the gate to Shapiro Packing's plant on New Savannah Road. Dozens of 18-wheeler refrigerator trucks haul the meat away for distribution -- some to the Shapiro grinding plant nearby and the rest to groceries and other clients around the country.

The plant slaughters 1,200 or more cattle each day, which makes it one of the largest slaughterhouses in the country. It is part of a family of companies owned by Herbert Lotman, a Pennsylvania businessman who created a meat empire after he developed a way to mass-produce frozen hamburgers for McDonald's and who helped invent chicken nuggets. His flagship company, Keystone Foods, based in West Conshohocken, Pa., is one of McDonald's largest suppliers.

Executives at McDonald's said that its own auditors, who are sent to all of its beef suppliers, had found nothing amiss at Shapiro. Walt Riker, a spokesman for McDonald's, said that the auditors had found that the plant quickly addressed any problems that surfaced.

As a large plant with more than 700 employees, Shapiro was required to begin using the new safety system in 1998. Its slaughterhouse has adopted extra measures against contamination in removal of the hide, which may be matted with manure, and the intestines. As carcasses sweep down the line at the rate of three per minute, feces can splatter onto the meat if workers are not careful.

Over the last three and a half years, government inspectors have cited Shapiro hundreds of times for a variety of safety violations, according to reports written by inspectors stationed inside the Shapiro plant.

Consumer activists obtained the inspection documents through the Freedom of Information Act.

According to the documents, inspectors repeatedly saw employees letting carcasses fall to the floor; ''insects in the larval stage (maggots)'' on floors; and black oil from machinery dripping onto meat.

The inspectors also reported several cases in which meat that had been condemned because of disease or contamination was not marked or clearly removed from production. On March 26, 2002, for example, an inspector asked a supervisor what had happened to cuts of meat condemned the previous day.

''Some of the meat was boxed yesterday and was shipped to the freezer,'' the supervisor replied. Inspectors tracked down the rejected meat in the freezer and again ordered the plant not to ship it, the inspection report reads.

But the reports that stand out for their frequency involve carcasses contaminated with cattle feces.

Inspectors found feces or ingesta (the contents of the stomach, which can also harbor pathogens) on carcasses on at least 23 days in 2001, according to the documents -- once every 16 days on average. In the last five months of 2002, inspectors found fecal contamination about every 12 days.

Like many large plants, Shapiro uses safety technology that includes washing carcass with warm water and pasteurization with water as hot as 195 degrees. Carcasses then go through a wash of lactic acid, meant to kill any remaining pathogens.

But inspectors at Shapiro have found feces both before and after the carcasses had been through the washes. From August 2002 through the end of that year, inspectors found manure or ingesta on 13 days. In seven of those cases, the carcasses had already been through the washes, including 20 contaminated sides of beef found on Oct. 21, another 8 on Oct. 22 and 20 more on Oct. 25.

In their reports, the inspectors described repeatedly finding the same violation. ''Preventive measures not implemented and/or not effective,'' they wrote several times.

This year brought little improvement. Government inspectors found feces on 12 days in the first six months of 2003. But the documents show that the company's own employees discovered far more. In January and May, Shapiro employees found feces on meat about every other day.

Under federal regulations, the government has what it calls ''zero tolerance'' for feces and ingesta. Carcasses must be entirely free of these contaminants after the animal has been skinned and eviscerated.

Executives at meat companies say that it is not possible to keep every bit of manure off the meat and that not all manure harbors deadly bacteria. ''I don't know that we will get to the point where we don't have a spot of fecal material,'' said Mr. Bernard, the Keystone executive, adding that the company cuts off any contaminated parts. As for any feces remaining on the carcasses at the end of the process, he said, ''The material would have been pasteurized.''

But some critics say the government seems largely to ignore its rule on feces.
''The zero-tolerance policy has public relations value, but that's about it,'' said Felicia Nestor, the director of food safety at the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit group in Washington that defends whistle-lowers, including many meat inspectors. ''No matter how much fecal they find, it never seems to trigger shutdowns.''

The System

Citations Mount Up, Few Actions Taken

According to interviews with government employees, the inspectors at Shapiro and their immediate supervisor at the plant had not been properly trained on the government's new inspection system.

The employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that some inspectors became frustrated that their superiors appeared to ignore problems that they had carefully detailed in documents called noncompliance reports, which are commonly referred to as N.R.'s. ''There were repeated N.R.'s,'' one employee said. ''You would think someone would notice.''

Stan Painter, who recently succeeded Mr. Jones as chairman of the government meat inspectors' union, said there was little the inspectors could do if their supervisors, including the agency's district office in Atlanta, did not take action. ''It is not like we are writing these things and no one is aware of them,'' Mr. Painter said.

The government's delays at Shapiro were mirrored in recent cases at other plants that shipped dangerous meat. At the ConAgra plant in Colorado, the inspector general's audit noted that inspectors who alerted supervisors to repeated fecal contamination were discouraged from taking action.

Months before the ConAgra plant shipped contaminated meat last year, the government's inspector in charge at the plant sent an e-mail message to a supervisor giving a ''heads up'' that the plant had trouble with fecal contamination, according to copies of messages provided by the Government Accountability Project, which represents some of the inspectors in the plant.

After discussions among his aides, Dr. Ronald K. Jones, the inspection service's district manager, concluded in an e-mail message two months later that the inspectors should hold off on making any threat to shut down the plant. Dr. Jones said the inspectors should continue to detain contaminated meat in order to prod the company to ''submit a meaningful action plan.'' According to the inspector general's report, the company never submitted one.

Inspection service officials declined to comment on the e-mail exchanges, as did Dr. Jones. Government officials say they have made many changes in enforcement since the ConAgra episode. In May, they issued a guideline directing inspectors to ask a district office to shut a plant down if they found repeated problems.

But the new instructions still do not specify at what point the violations become too numerous. William C. Smith, deputy administrator for field operations at the food safety service, argued that government officials cannot set such standards because each plant is different.

''There is no magic number,'' Mr. Smith said. ''To say if you get 5 of this you do this, or 10 of this you do this -- it would be an arbitrary, capricious system.''
The agency is also re-examining the safety systems in all beef plants to make sure they are designed to prevent E. coli contamination. Officials point out that they are finding fewer cases of dangerous bacteria in random tests. For example, 0.30 percent of meat samples taken this year through the end of August were found to be tainted with E.coli O157:H7, down from 0.78 percent in 2002.

In addition, the government has created a group of inspectors with extra scientific training, to review plants' safety systems and if necessary help initiate recalls more quickly. The number of these consumer safety officers will rise to 300 by year's end, from about 100, officials said.

Still, the Shapiro case shows that the safety officers can be slow to act.

In March, a safety officer visited Shapiro's slaughterhouse to monitor its E. coli controls. The officer took no action, even though the documents show that inspectors had already reported fecal and other contamination of meat on 13 days in the first two months of the year.

Another safety officer began to look closely at Shapiro in July -- but only as a result of a separate case. At least 22 people in as many as 15 states had fallen ill from steaks bought from a Chicago meat company, Stampede Meat. Shapiro was one of 38 suppliers to that company.

Government officials said they were not able to tie the tainted steaks to any specific supplier. But after scrutinizing most of the suppliers, they threatened to shut down three, including Shapiro. In a July 18 letter, the government said the Augusta plant had ''failed to take appropriate corrective actions or effective preventive measures'' to stop contamination.

Shapiro executives said that the bacteria found in the steaks sold by Stampede could not have come from Shapiro. Mr. Bernard, the Keystone executive, said that last year Shapiro began testing samples from every 2000-pound box of meat for E.coli O157:H7 just before shipment. Only 6 out of 5,970 boxes have failed the test this year, he said. The tainted meat was sold to a company that cooks it to destroy the bacteria and uses it for chili or dog food, he said.

''Our main focus is to make sure the product that goes out the door is safe to consume,'' Mr. Bernard said.

The Actions

Some Improvements, Still Some Risks

While the government has struggled with enforcement, many meatpacking plants -- including the ConAgra site in Colorado, now owned by Swift & Company -- have added new safety precautions. Others have lagged. As a result, experts caution, it is hard for consumers to know whether the meat they buy comes from the cleanest plants.

Since the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak at its restaurants a decade ago, Jack in the Box has ordered its suppliers to test far more extensively for pathogens than the government requires. Other fast-food chains and some retailers, like the Costco Wholesale Corporation, have followed suit.

David M. Theno, Jack in the Box's senior vice president for quality assurance and product safety, estimates that 40 percent of the nation's meat plants now do a ''superior job'' on safety, and that 30 percent to 40 percent are ''pretty good.''

Referring to the remaining 20 percent to 30 percent, Mr. Theno said, ''There are people at the other end of the thing that aren't doing well at all.''

Caroline Smith-DeWaal, the food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, said consumers should check with their grocery stores and their children's schools ''to ensure that they have strict standards for testing for harmful pathogens.''

Sara Lee Corp. Pleads Guilty In Meat Case


Published: June 23, 2001

The Sara Lee Corporation, one of the nation's largest makers of hot dogs and supermarket deli meats, pleaded guilty today to a misdemeanor charge that it had produced and distributed tainted meat that sickened scores of consumers and was linked to about 15 deaths.

The company agreed to pay $4.4 million to settle civil and criminal charges brought by the United States attorney for Western Michigan after a 1998 nationwide recall of deli meats and hot dogs that were produced at the company's Bill Mar Foods plant in Zeeland, Mich.

Sara Lee, which makes Ball Park and Hygrade hot dogs and Sara Lee Deli Meat, recalled about 15 million pounds of meat in December 1998 after the federal government determined that a rare strain of listeria bacteria in the company's hot dogs and cold cuts had probably sickened people in several states. It was one of the largest meat recalls in United States history.

A year ago, Sara Lee settled a class-action lawsuit brought by consumers who said they had been harmed by tainted meat produced at the Bill Mar plant. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had identified the plant as the source in a nationwide outbreak of listeriosis, which is most harmful to pregnant women, children, the elderly and people with weak immune systems. In healthy people, the bacterium generally causes flulike symptoms.

Sara Lee, which is based in Chicago, closed some lines at the plant in December 1998 and has since spent about $25 million on renovations to a site that government inspectors said in the time leading up to the outbreak was infested with roaches and contained old meat and debris.

Still, Phillip J. Green, the United States attorney in Grand Rapids, Mich., said today that the company was only charged with a misdemeanor and not a felony because investigators found no evidence that Sara Lee intentionally produced or distributed adulterated meats. The company had cooperated with the investigation, Mr. Green said.
''It is tragic that people died,'' he said, ''but the law does not provide for a felony charge unless we can show that the company knew and intended to ship adulterated foods.''