A recall of close to nine million pounds of meat, issued on Saturday by the Rancho Feeding Corporation, is not the first for the company, which provides products to California, Texas, Illinois and Florida.
The northern California company was already forced to recall at least 40,000 pounds of meat products last month after federal inspectors found that these products were not subject to full federal inspection. They were subsequently deemed unfit for human consumption and became subject to a Class I recall.
The tainted meat products subject to this latest recall were uncovered during the ongoing investigation of Rancho Feeding Corporation by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) for the mishandling which lead to the first recall.
The meat targeted in both recalls came from diseased animals and did not under go proper full federal inspection, according to regulators. Listed in the recall notices are a wide range of beef and veal parts, including carcasses, heads, cheeks, lips, tongues, bones, feet, certain internal organs and blood.
The Class I recall is the highest risk level for USDA recalls and “indicates a health hazard situation where there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death”.
The company provides products to distribution centers and retailers in four states, California, Texas, Illinois and Florida. First reports indicate the FSIS has not received any reports of illness due to consumption of the California company’s recalled meats.
Like many other companies, Rancho Feeding Corporation is conducting business in one of the worst drought conditions in recent history.
Now in their third year, drought conditions in California are contributing to increased costs to feed and care for beef cattle and other livestock. Soil moisture levels are low which reduces available grazing land. Hay and alternate feeds are becoming more expensive, when they can be found at all, and trucking in supplemental water for the animals is expensive.
Many ranchers, hard pressed to reduce their herd in order to remain economically viable, are selling off livestock in record numbers. According to 101 Livestock Market, a popular California auction house, they have seen a 70 percent increase in the amount of animals normally sold per week during this time of year.
Economic pressure on ranchers is also in evidence as they are not able to garner the same prices for the animals in their current condition, hay fed and less mature, as they would for ones which grazed on grass until being sold in June or July.
At the same time, beef prices have reached a record high, with other meat products also trending upwards. A drought two years ago in the midwest, similar to the one going on now in California, contributed to this price increase. The lowest ranch cattle population since 1952 is also a contributing factor. In addition, beef consumption in the US has trended downwards since the mid 1980’s. In 1985 the national per capita consumption was 79.2 pounds, by 2009 it had dropped to 61.1 pounds, a decrease of over seven percent. These consumption rates have also contributed to beef’s increased price.
Could the sudden increase in animals available for processing, and the strong economic incentive to sell as much inventory as possible during historically high prices be combining to overwhelm the inspection capabilities of meat production facilities? This second recall for a California meat production company might be a first alert that proper oversight of these firms is critical, especially when environmental circumstances are not the only factors to consider.
By Brian Ryer