Congressmen, and the reporters who cover them, love to be in the know, and when they do not have that insider information they feel a bit weak and vulnerable – I get it. I also get that the San Francisco foodie community is upset that they are having trouble getting its fix of grass-fed, organic beef. I also get that ranchers, manufacturers, retailers and consumers are likely being caught-up in this mess.
However, as frustrating the lack of information is there are good reasons that the owners of Rancho and the FSIS are limiting their comments on the recall of nearly 9,000,000 pounds of meat stretching over a year – its third recall of 2014.
USDA’s Office of Inspector General is investigating. Because it is a potential criminal investigation, Rancho’s owners and employees are wise to limit what they say without the benefit of a lawyer. FSIS is also holding things close to the vest, because it risks interfering with OIG’s investigation. The lack of information is frustrating, but to do otherwise risks due process.
FSIS maintains that Rancho “processed diseased and unsound animals and carried out these activities without the benefit or full benefit of federal inspection.” That is a serious charge, and although there have been no reported illnesses linked to this recall, processing animals under these conditions carry food safety risks, and are against the law.
FSIS is also caught between a rock and a hard place. If no one becomes ill, and the recall is possibly deemed unnecessary, it will be criticized for over-reacting. However, if the evidence went the other way, and FSIS did not issue a recall, they would be criticized for not doing its job.
In my view public safety has to trump business interests and transparency cannot overtake due process. As frustrating as it is, we all have to let the investigation play out.