The largest recall of beef in U.S. history – over 143 million pounds – and the solid evidence that USDA has failed to enforce its own ban against downer cattle being used in the nation’s school lunch program, demand immediate action by Congress says food safety attorney William D. Marler.  As I said to USA Today:

The huge recall will put the safety of the U.S. beef supply "front and center" in Congress, said William Marler, a prominent food-safety lawyer.

Marler says Congress should call hearings on the safety of the beef supply in the United States and provide funds to the Centers on Disease Control to study children for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease) who consumed the meat supplied to the National School Lunch Program.

“The link between cattle that are too sick or injured to stand or walk, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease) has been clearly established.” Marler said. “We were promised that the procurement specifications eliminated “downer” cattle from the National School Lunch Program and the USDA fully banned “downer “cattle from the human food chain in 2003.”

“In light of the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company, which was caught on film processing “downer” cattle, in violation of U.S. law, we now know that USDA ban was a lie,” added Marler. “Since BSE typically will not show symptoms for years, we need the CDC to track school children who might have been exposed.”

“And let’s not forget the risk of E. coli O157:H7. Since April of 2007 until this morning, another 30,000,000 pounds of red meat, mostly hamburger, had been recalled. E. coli illnesses once on a downturn have spiked. Kids are getting sick; seriously sick again,” said Marler. According to a USDA study published in August 2004 “downer” cows had three times more E. coli O157:H7 than other cows.

“One would think that with hundreds of Americans poisoned that Congress would ask one simple question – “What is going on?” Congress needs to act now. It is time for Congress to accept a leadership role and call hearings, not only to explore the reasons for the past months’ E. coli outbreaks, but also to help prevent the next one. Congress needs to fulfill its role of providing oversight to the other branches of government, especially investigative oversight,” added Marler.