Saturday, August 16, 2008

You Can't Both Know From Where Your Meat Is Coming, And Not Know

I've purchased meat from Whole Foods. And eggs. And dairy food. I'm willing to pay their higher prices for what I believe to be higher-quality products.

Now I learn that Whole Foods accepted for sale from its biggest meat supplier, Coleman Natural Beef, product that was processed by Nebraska Beef - the same Nebraska Beef which processes factory-farmed animals, which is at the center of an E. coli outbreak, and which was compelled to recall several million pounds of their product - resulting in Whole Foods recalling all of their ground beef in over half the country (27 states plus DC) for most of the summer (June 2- August 6). (I wonder how much of that was consumed.)

Whole Foods isn't claiming responsibility for this incident. (Edmund LaMacchia, Global VP of Procurement: "this event did not occur because we were negligent or slow to react.") They say their reputation for monitoring and conducting onsite inspections at production facilities is intact. LaMacchia: "We stand behind our products."

If Whole Foods was not negligent, and if they stand by their stated practice of "inspection of each producer's operation", how did this happen? Did someone at Whole Foods knowingly sign-off on the use of the Nebraska Beef plant? Something doesn't make sense here.

Either they truly follow the path of their meat from farm to store shelf as they state, in which case they knew that their largest beef supplier was sold ... to whom ... and what that could mean regarding processing. (Even though LaMacchia said they were "surprised" to learn that the new owners of Coleman were using Nebraska Beef for processing.) Or they did not know from where their meat was coming, in which case their claim of selling quality meats from quality operations, that they inspect on-site, is not true. You can't both know from where your meat is coming, and not know.

If I choose to accept that they are not at fault, then I have to conclude their practices are inadequate to assess from where their meat is coming. From where their eggs are coming. Their dairy foods.

I don't mean to pick on Whole Foods exclusively. This has been a lesson for me. Unless I harvest it myself, I take a risk.

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