I was the first speaker today at Senator Dean Florez’s hearing into the lapses that led to the largest beef recall our nation has ever experienced. My written testimony is here.  Reports this week indicate that more than 50 million of the 143 million pounds of beef recalled were distributed to schools across the nation through a federal nutrition program, and 20 million of those were consumed by students.

The Senate Select Committee on Food-borne Illness will focus its inquiry on how California’s food safety system allowed “downer” cattle deemed “unfit for human” consumption into the food chain. Officials from the California Department of Public Health (DPH) and the California Department of Food & Agriculture will be asked to report what additional steps they are taking to prevent potentially contaminated meat from entering our food supply in the future.

The Committee will explore the roles of federal and state officials in these tasks, and what the state is doing to fill the obvious gaps in the federal system. The magnitude of the recent recall, dating all the way back to 2006, indicates that the federal inspection system has been deficient for some time.

The state’s failure to catch the misconduct over a two year period is another crucial shortcoming which must be addressed. To that end, Florez has proposed the installation of cameras in plants like Westland/Hallmark to document that cattle intended for human consumption are healthy enough to walk unaided to the slaughterhouse. Westland/Hallmark, which installed such cameras only after its plant was shut down, has declined to send a representative to Monday’s hearing.

Officials with DPH will also be asked to answer questions regarding the implementation of SB 611, which requires notification of health officials in the event of a recall.

Florez, an outspoken advocate of improved food safety precautions, has also called on the Governor to reimburse cash-strapped school districts their expenses from the recall, to be recouped from Westland/Hallmark through the efforts of California’s Attorney General.

“Schools shouldn’t have to go through a complicated process of getting reimbursed, and I hope this bill will help cut through some of the bureaucracy,” Florez said. “We are facing tough cuts as it is. Student’s educational opportunities shouldn’t be further stifled because of this company’s actions.”