In 1992 and 1993 when the Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak occurred, and I got my introduction as an attorney to outbreak-related litigation, the meat industry looked very different than it does so today. The company that manufactured the hamburger patties for Jack in the Box—Vons Companies, Inc.—purchased meat to grind into hamburger from numerous companies, including Beef Packers Inc., Cattleman’s Choice, Fresno Meat Co., Monfort Inc., Orleans International Inc., RBR Meat Co., Service Packing Co. and Westland Inc. At the time, most of these companies were regionally-based, and not vertically integrated. Consequently, there were separate companies that ran slaughterhouse, boning operations, and packers, each sourcing from within their more immediate area of operations. There were also local and regional feedlots.
Today, that has all changed. Instead, there are huge mega-plants that combine all aspects of meat-production in a single, tightly integrated operation that produces meat products that are then distributed nationwide. That is why when you have E. coli O157:H7 outbreak involving meat products, the illness and death are widely spread, and the initial source of the contamination is sometimes difficult to trace back to its source. Back in the day, it simply was not possible to have product recalls involving millions of pounds of meat because no one was really producing and distributing it on that scale.So if you are looking for an additional argument in favor of a more local and regional based food supply, the prevention of mega-outbreak, courtesy of “Big Meat” (also known as the mega-meat industry, or Cargill/Conagra/Tyson triumvirate), is definitely a compelling one–in my humble opinion.
With this thought in mind, click on the Continue Reading link and check out a press release that was forwarded to me yesterday, which announced a recently released report about the demise of local small meat processing operations. And if you’re so inclined, read the entire report. It’s worth your time.