13:51 PST WASHINGTON (AP) --
The Agriculture Department said Tuesday its meat recall
from the nation's first case of mad cow disease was nearly
four times larger than previously disclosed, but dismissed
the size as irrelevant.
The government said the recall grew to 38,000 pounds
from the 10,400 it announced Dec. 23, when the government
reported that a slaughtered Holstein cow in Washington
state had tested positive for the brain-wasting disease.
Officials had originally set the recall at 10,400
pounds after determining that Vern's Moses Lake Meats in
Moses Lake, Wash., had mingled meat from the infected cow
with meat from 19 other head of cattle on Dec. 9.
Vern's then shipped the entire amount, 10,400 pounds,
to a deboning processor in Centralia, Wash. From there,
the meat was sent to two processors in Oregon, where it
was mixed with other meat to create 38,000 pounds of
The ground beef was then shipped to wholesalers and
retailers in six western states. From slaughter to
supermarkets and restaurants, about 580 businesses handled
the meat, Agriculture Department officials said.
The department posted the higher recall number on its
Web site Feb. 9, but did not call attention to it because
it was focused on finding out what happened to the beef,
officials said. The Seattle Times reported the increase
"The total poundage is irrelevant," said
Steve Cohen, a spokesman for the department's Food Safety
and Inspection Service. "The relevance is how quickly
the product was tracked, how diligent was the tracking and
recovering what was recoverable."
The department said it does not know what happened to
about 17,000 pounds of the recalled meat but said it was
probably eaten or thrown out by consumers. The rest was
returned for destruction.
The department said the brain and nervous system tissue
most likely to carry the misshapen protein that causes
bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, had been removed
on the day of slaughter. Any meat products from the
infected cow were not expected to carry the misshapen
protein, officials said.
Eating meat containing BSE's infectious protein can
give humans a similarly rare but fatal disease, variant
Creutzfeld-Jakob disease. More than 150 people have died
from the disease in Europe, but no case of it has been
linked to U.S. beef.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a
consumer advocacy group, said the department's decision
not to publicize expanding the recall raises questions
about its reliability.
The Agriculture Department's initial recall
announcements are based on what companies tell it, and
it's in the companies' interests to keep the number low,
said Caroline Smith DeWaal, head of food safety for CSPI.
She said Congress should give the department power to
order recalls instead of having to ask companies to issue