It's difficult to watch the undercover video the Humane Society filmed in the Westland/Hallmark meat-processing plant without wanting to throw up. The film of the California plant's employees forcing sick ”downer” cows toward slaughter was not only revolting, it documented violations of federal law. Result: the U.S. Department of Agriculture recalled 143 million pounds of beef processed by the plant, the largest such action in American history.

Trouble is, the government says a good portion of this meat has already been consumed 20 million pounds of it by schoolchildren. Fortunately, there have been no reported illnesses linked to the beef. The USDA is allowing meat covered by the recall that has been commingled with beef from other sources to remain on store shelves. Good luck with that.

Consumers have a right to be confident about the quality of their food. This episode shows that health regulation of the meat-processing industry is insufficient. There is a critical shortage of USDA inspectors, and since regulatory reforms of the 1990s, meat processors have been given more responsibility for policing themselves.

It's time for Washington to substantially beef up its meat inspection team. Do we really have to wait for a major outbreak of E. coli or some other serious meat-borne illness for the government to act?

North Texas beef eaters who want to opt out of the industrial meat system should consider buying local pasture-raised beef from one of the region's small farmers. Jo Robinson of the authoritative site has a list of Texas livestock farmers who sell this kind of meat directly ( Additionally, local beef from small Texas farmers is available at some area locations of Whole Foods Market, whose entire beef selection undergoes additional inspection.

Realistically, most consumers will be unable or unwilling to pay higher prices or endure the inconvenience involved in obtaining non-assembly-line beef. Who's looking out for their interests?


— The Dallas Morning News