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Colo. Catholic school goes to organic beef after February’s massive USDA recall

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (The Colorado Catholic Herald) - Corpus Christi School has changed beef suppliers to a local organic outlet following a U.S. Department of Agriculture (UDSA) recall of beef in the middle of February at institutions around the nation.

The recall, the largest in U.S. history that aimed to round up 143 million pounds of suspect meat, came on the heels of an investigation of California-based Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company. The slaughterhouse and grinding operation that supplies approximately 20 percent of the lunch meat to schools across the nation has come under investigation for inhumane and potentially dangerous practices.

Corpus Christi participates in a government lunch program that provides meat and other food supplies that public and private schools can use in hot lunches. Corpus Christi is one of four diocesan schools, along with Ave Maria in Parker and Divine Redeemer and Pauline Memorial in Colorado Springs, which provides hot lunches to students on a daily basis. St. Peter in Monument provides hot lunch one day a week.

Corpus Christi now is using Callicrate Beef, a local brand that is sold at Ranch Foods Direct in Colorado Springs. Callicrate Beef and Ranch Foods Direct are owned by Mike Callicrate, a Catholic who makes his home in St. Francis, Kan., and commutes back and forth to Colorado Springs weekly.

According to the Office of Total Catholic Education, Divine Redeemer contracts lunches through District 11, which receives its beef from Callicrate Beef. Ave Maria works in concert with Douglas County Schools, which is in talks with Callicrate Beef to become a food supplier.

Good stewards of the earth

Callicrate said Callicrate Beef and Ranch Foods Direct operate with an understanding of humane treatment of animals, and his company adds no hormones, antibiotics or animal by-products to its meat. He said inhumane treatment of livestock extends to unhealthy food preparation and a substandard finished product that shouldn’t be served to children at schools or aging people in assisted living facilities.

“We have companies that have taken food and turned it into something unhealthy,” said Callicrate, referring to additives and chemicals that are put into processed foods. “We’re treating our children and old people in ways that are unacceptable. Did your mom and dad simply feed you with the cheapest thing they could find?”

Further, from a Catholic perspective, human and ethical meat production follows the call for stewardship of the earth, Callicrate said, calling it “morally wrong” to simply take from the land indiscriminately.

“We are instructed to care for our animals humanely,” said Callicrate. “We are instructed to treat people the way we want to be treated.”

Healthy cows, healthy people

The beef recall stems from producers like Hallmark/Westland, which were using “downer” cows for beef supply. Downer cows are cattle that are sick, diseased and dying. They produce meat that may be detrimental to humans if ingested. Hallmark/Westland is accused of grinding downer cows into ground beef, including grinding spinal cords into the product.

“Of the 143 million pounds involved with this recall, we have about 50.3 million pounds that went to federal nutrition programs,” Eric Steiner, associate administrator for the USDA’s food and nutrition services’ special nutrition programs, told reporters in a teleconference Feb. 21. “Of that 50.3 million pounds, we have 19.6 million pounds that were consumed.”

The USDA listed the beef recall as a Class II recall, indicating a low health risk, and no illnesses have been reported from tainted meat.

“[W]e call it a very, very remote probability of any adverse illness,” said Dr. Kenneth Peterson, assistant administrator for the USDA’s food safety and inspection service’s office of field operations.

Rina Sanabria, food services coordinator at Corpus Christi, said the school was surprised to find out it was getting suspect beef for its school lunches, though she said no students reported becoming sick from any tainted meat.

“Coming from the government, you would think they were sending us good things,” she said. “I was very concerned because we’ve been getting this meat for a long time.”

Holding schools accountable

The USDA contacted Corpus Christi in February and told the school to put beef on hold and not to use it. The school sent all its government beef back in the middle of that month and plans to use Callicrate Beef as its sole beef provider moving forward.

Sanabria said cafeteria staff had been asking her before the recall if the school could switch to Callicrate Beef. She didn’t know if Corpus Christi could afford the company, but she said the school got a good deal to receive ground beef and patties from Callicrate Beef.

“The ladies that work here, they don’t eat anything but Ranch Foods Direct,” said Sanabria, who is a member of Corpus Christi Parish.

Callicrate said parents need to hold schools accountable for what goes into students’ lunches.

“Parents have to stand up and say, ‘I want my child to have better food at school,’” said Callicrate, noting that parents should be prepared to stand their ground and expect arguments that increased quality means increased costs. “The bottom line is this industrialized model of agriculture has managed to externalize a lot of the costs: costs of a living wage, environmental costs, losing our domestic food system. Parents have to be willing to stand up and say that they will not pay for fake, industrialized food.”

No more tainted meat

Sanabria said the school let parents know in its weekly newsletter that Callicrate Beef was the new supplier. She reported that several students who previously did not get hot lunches at the school have begun ordering meals.

According to Callicrate, cheap, processed food takes a toll on a child’s learning ability, and he lamented the fact that children are given unhealthy food and expected to perform at a high academic level.

“When we send our kids off to school with a Mountain Dew and Snickers bar, it’s not cutting it. We’ve got to get them back to whole foods,” said Callicrate, noting that many cafeterias are serving processed ready-to-eat meals rather than having lunchroom staffs that can prepare hot meals from scratch.

Sanabria said she feels confident that children are now getting high-quality beef for hot lunches, and that she has removed the burden of concern about tainted meat.

“I love these kids, and I don’t want any of them getting sick. Now I don’t have to worry about that,” she said.

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Republished by Catholic Online with permission of The Colorado Catholic Herald, the official publication of the Diocese of Colorado Springs, Colo. (www.ColoradoCatholicHerald.com).

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