WASHINGTON – Beef banned under mad cow disease rules was shipped to wholesalers in a half-dozen states and is now being recalled by a Wisconsin beef plant.
The 1,856 pounds of beef came from a Canadian cow. Inspectors there determined the cow was eligible for shipment to the United States, but a Canadian audit two weeks later said the cow was too old to be allowed inside the U.S.
“There is a minimal chance, given the age of the animal and the health of the animal, that there was any risk whatsoever” to people, Steven Cohen, spokesman for the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, said Monday.
The U.S. restricts shipments to younger animals because infection levels from mad cow disease are believed to rise with age. The cutoff is 30 months of age.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is investigating and has suspended the veterinarian who certified the cow, said Francine Lord, import-export manager for the agency’s animal health division. She said the agency finished its audit last week and notified U.S. officials Thursday. The Agriculture Department said Canadian officials verified the cow’s age on Friday.
Green Bay Dressed Beef of Green Bay, Wis., processed the cow on Aug. 4 and distributed the meat to wholesalers in Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The department and the company are trying to find out how much beef wound up in retail stores, Cohen said.
The department issued code numbers for recalled cases of beef sent to distributors, but it was unknown whether beef that reached the retail level would have carried the same numbers. Consumer groups have criticized the government for not revealing the names of retail stores involved in food recalls.
“When it comes to a case like this, the retailer is never disclosed – how are you ever going to know whether your chuck roast was involved in this recall or not?” asked Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union. “The consumer has absolutely no way of knowing.”
The recall is for cuts of meat that could contain backbone because the cow’s backbone was not removed. Those cuts include neck bone, short loin and bone-in chuck.
The U.S. requires the removal of backbone and nerve parts – which can carry mad cow disease – when older cows are slaughtered. The at-risk tissues are removed from cows older than 30 months.
U.S. and Canadian officials said the cow in question wasn’t the only problem in a shipment of 35 cows from Ontario: Also in that shipment were eight pregnant cows, which the U.S. also prohibits.