ConAgra to Recycle Poop-Tainted
Meat into Canned Chili and Pet Food


DAVID MIGOYA, DENVER POST: At least 68,000 pounds of
E. coli-tainted beef linked to an 18.6 million-pound recall by ConAgra
Beef Co. may turn up on dinner tables as ready-to-eat canned chili,
meat spaghetti sauce, beef ravioli or some other meal. Or, it might end
up as pet food. Or fertilizer. And no one has to tell you it's there.

A spokesman for the Greeley-based beef company said Thursday
that meat returned as a result of the nation's second-largest recall in
history will be cooked and turned into food for people or pets, or
nonfood products. Or both.

That consumers might buy a meal containing recalled meat is legal ---
and wholesome --- according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The federal agency must OK the company's plans for recalled meat.
Cooking recalled meat is common practice in the food industry.

"I think we can say any product that is cooked per the guidelines
established by the USDA and recommended by the Colorado
Department of Health is perfectly safe for human consumption and
to indicate otherwise is irresponsible," ConAgra spokesman Jim Herlihy said.

Consumers watching the ConAgra recall, however, may think differently.

"They're asking me to trust them again, and that's outrageous," said Lisa
Scannell of Longmont. Her five-year-old son, Alec Scholhamer, was
sickened last month after eating a hamburger made with ConAgra meat.
"They always blame people for not cooking the meat even though they're
the ones who put the E. coli there. I'm supposed to trust them now to cook
it, too?" A Colorado health official said recalled meat shouldn't end up as
human food again.

"By definition of the federal recall, it's not fit for human consumption,"
said Patti Klocker, assistant director of the Colorado Department of
Health and Environment Consumer Protection Division. "We recommend
that humans don't consume it and that it shouldn't be turned into something edible."

Herlihy said he did not know how much of the meat has already been
cooked or processed. He could not say if it will be sold to outside
companies or to ConAgra-owned businesses, or how much will become
nonfood products such as fertilizer and tallow.

"Cooking would render any pathogen harmless," he said. The USDA agrees.

"An E. coli . . . contaminated beef product must not be distributed until it has
been processed into a ready-to-eat product," according to federal regulations.
The regulations do not require companies to disclose whether products contain
cooked, recalled meat. There is no record of anyone getting sick from eating
a product made with cooked recalled meat.

"Even though cooking it to 265 degrees makes it sterile, I still don't like poop
in my chili," said Paul Johnson, acting chairman of the National Joint Council
of Food Inspection unions. ConAgra issued a recall on June 30 for 354,200
pounds of ground beef contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, a potentially lethal
variant. The company expanded the recall on July 19 after the USDA learned
ConAgra made ground beef from untested meat on days the slaughterhouse
found E. coli in meat it had tested.

ConAgra removed the tested meat - about 56,000 pounds of it --- from ground-
beef processing. Because it was not recalled, ConAgra does not need USDA
approval for how to use it. Of the original 354,200 pounds recalled, only 12,000
pounds have been returned. There are no figures yet for the amount returned from
the expanded, 18.6 million-pound recall.

"If it was positive (for E. coli) and routed for cooking or rendering, that would
be standard procedure," Herlihy said.

Federal records show that last year ConAgra intercepted 20 tons of E. coli-tainted
meat from its Greeley plant that were destined to become hamburgers at a national
fast-food chain. The meat was eventually reboxed, labeled "For Cooking Purposes
Only" and shipped to International Home Foods Inc., a ConAgra-owned company
in Pennsylvania.

IHF brand names include common products such as Chef Boyardee, Libby's Canned
Meats, and PAM cooking spray. ConAgra officials would not say whether International
used any of the 20 tons of meat in its food products.

In 1997, Hudson Foods planned to sell 25 million pounds of recalled ground beef
to companies that made pre-cooked products such as TV dinners and burritos.
The recall happened after 17 Coloradans were sickened with E. coli. It was unclear
Thursday whether Hudson followed through. Tainted meat sometimes is destined for

In early 2000, Callaway Packing in Delta took 3,750 pounds of meat recalled
because of E. coli and sold it to Grand Valley By-Products in Grand Junction.
Owner Melvin Seevers said his firm cooked the meat and sold it to companies
that made pet food and animal feed out of it. Sometimes, recalled meat is buried
in a landfill.

Whatever happens to the ConAgra meat, victims of food-borne bacteria say
there's really only one solution to tainted beef: a clean slaughterhouse. "I know
putting it into chili isn't something many people realize, but the focus needs to
be on the safety of the meat coming from the plant," said Karen Taylor Mitchell,
executive director of Safe Tables Our Priority in Burlington, Vermont. "We want
meat and poultry to be safe in the first place."


ASSOCIATED PRESS: The national recall of 19 million pounds of contaminated
meat, the second-largest in history, might have been averted if somebody had
listened to John Munsell months ago. Munsell had been trying to tell the U.S.
Agriculture Department since February that ConAgra Beef Co.'s meatpacking
plant in Greeley, Colorado, had E. coli problems.

He knew because his Montana Quality Foods & Processing Co. here had
received contaminated beef from the Greeley plant.

But the department's Food Safety Inspection Service did not order the huge
recall until July 19. By that time, 17 people in Colorado had been sickened by
the beef, and other cases have surfaced since. Other cases that may be related
also have occurred in California, Iowa, Michigan, South Dakota, Washington
and Wyoming, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"They will do everything they can to prevent a confrontation with a big packer,
" Munsell said Wednesday. "In other words, there is no one in USDA, with
the exception of the field personnel, no one in the bureaucracy that has the
intestinal fortitude to confront the big packers."

A policy change the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this week
indicates somebody finally may have heard Munsell. That, he said, is only
because he "went public" despite fears of retaliation. "They may try something
in the future," Munsell said.

Montana Quality Foods had to recall 270 pounds of ground beef late in
January because of E. coli contamination, but Munsell's records didn't show
which of several major packing houses it came from. Because of that, he said
he made two changes in his operation: He began keeping specific records
showing the origin of the meats he grinds, and he began holding his processed
meats in storage until government laboratory test results are back.

That paid off in February, when three tests came back as contaminated by
E. coli. The meat had not been distributed, so there was no recall. Montana
Quality Foods' records showed that all the meat originated at the same place
--- ConAgra's plant 969 --- in the same batch, on the same date.

Federal field inspectors relayed Munsell's information to the head of the
inspection service's Minneapolis regional office in a letter March 1 written
and signed by Dr. Daryl Burden, a veterinarian and circuit supervisor,
and countersigned by Inspector-in-Charge Ronald Irvine.

The reaction, Munsell said, was silence, even after major newspapers
around the country began reporting his experience.

In Washington on [last] Monday, Public Citizen and the Government
Accountability Project released Munsell's e-mails alerting USDA and
pleading for the agency to ask him for his documentation. Burden, the
inspection service official who wrote the March 1 letter, notified Munsell
of the policy change this week.

Munsell called that change "a 180-degree turnaround in FSIS policy," but
added, "It is just a start. It's a scandal of immense proportions that I hope the
news media and Congress bring to a head," he said.

"USDA itself has promulgated regulations and directives in recent years
designed with the primary purpose to release them from responsibility for
day-to-day, hands-on meat inspection." The new policy says information
is to be collected about the source of meat going into a grinder, and if there
is a positive E. coli test inspectors are to immediately inform the district office,
which would then notify the supplying establishments and other district offices
if they are involved.


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