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Don't Buy Beef at Wal-Mart


Wal-Mart's most famous anti-worker case came back a couple of decades ago. The meatcutters in one particular store actually got as far along in the organizing process as to vote to join a union. In response the company closed, not just that meat department but all meat departments at all their stores. All their meat cutting, grinding, processing, etc., is now done at a central location and the packaged product distributed.

That's for fresh meat of course. Much more of their meat products are sold frozen, and those are bought from, sigh, whoever will sell at the lowest prices. The big recall you've been hearing about involves beef from Topps Meat Co. of (soon to be "formerly of" since they're going out of business) Elizabeth NJ. Their products were sold under their own name and at a wide variety of stores besides Wal-Mart.

The other recall, which is just starting to get publicity, is of the same product, frozen hamburger patties, but sold under the name American Chef's Selection Angus Beef Patties. That one is sold pretty exclusively at Wal-Mart-owned Sam's Club, although not in the WM stores themselves.

American Chef is produced by a little mom-n-pop outfit called Cargill. And Topps?

You'll see the "president" of the company quoted, and mention that they were "family founded" in ..well, let's just clip here (from the NYT piece linked above):

Topps opened in 1940 in Manhattan. The founder, Benjamin Sachs, later sold the company to his son, Steven Sachs, according to Ann Sachs, the founder’s former daughter-in-law. A few years before the company moved to New Jersey, Joseph D’Urso became vice president.

After Mr. D’Urso died in 2003, the company was bought by Strategic Investment and Holdings, a large investment firm in Buffalo that has stakes in dozens of companies. The firm declined to answer any questions.

Most of the Topps employees quoted in the stories about the recall, and now the closure, have Hispanic sounding names. And one is specifically mentioned as being a member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 342-50.

So we have a small company which managed for almost 60 years to provide UNION jobs in one of the most expensive areas in the country to live in. They did one thing and they did it well. Then a mere four years after being bought out by "a large investment firm" the are hit by a recall which covers pretty much a year's worth of product, on top of which they face lawsuits. (Which lawsuits, it should be pointed out, would be a lot less necessary to cover the horrid medical expenses an e. coli victim incurs if we had universal healthcare in this country.)

Cargill on the other hand faces no such danger of being put out of business.

I've seen a certain amount of, shall we say, class snobbishness over this story, of the "well, who would buy frozen beef patties after all" sort of tone. To which I say humbug. They are a perfectly sensible product in at least two circumstances: those who are cooking for a large group at once, as at a picnic or school sports event or the like, and those who live alone or in very small households, like in particular the elderly.

Neither group deserves to be poisoned by their food for the sake of making higher profits for corporations. I'm not saying "don't shop at Wal-Mart at all", ideal though that situation would be. There are too many people who have no real alternative. But it just makes sense to buy as little there as you can practicably manage. And buy meat somewhere else, m'kay?

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Ruth's picture
Submitted by Ruth on

living alone and cooking for one, may I say, nonsense. No one needs to shop at WalMart, in my experience. And buying meat patties some one else made into individual meal sizes for you isn't economical, anyway.

Xan, your point about the investor-run factory going under is very apt. Making cuts in quality and practices may make 'bottom line' sense. But as with any food producer, the safety factor can't be ignored. Under this administration, which instituted "voluntary" safety inspections when it took office, the growing incidence of food poisoning is showing the public again that it needs protections. Profits do not keep your kids out of the hospital, or worse.


Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

I just cited a couple of examples off the top of my head. People in a lot of neighborhoods, or rural areas, don't have access to a lot of choice in the realm of food shopping. People who don't have cars have even less choice.

Having a Wal-Mart come into an area like South Side Chicago really is a big deal because A&P and Jewell and Kroger pulled out a long time ago. I trust my anti-Wal-Mart credentials are established by this time but facts is facts: they got as big as they did for a reason. One of those reasons is that they target markets where they do represent a better choice than what's there presently. Not the best choice in the Best Of All Possible Worlds, but the one we live in.

Oh, and my grandma was a fairly faithful purchaser of those frozen beef patties. She didn't eat a lot of beef but when she felt like a burger she could have one quickly, easily and without having to either schlep to the store and buy a pound of hamburger or worry that the rest of it would go bad before she felt like having beef again. And Grandma subscribed to the squeeze-the-nickel-till-the-buffalo-shits school of economics, so I am not about to criticize. ;)

Ruth's picture
Submitted by Ruth on

to imagine those circumstances, being rural and having WalMart such an offensive presence. But thanks for giving circumstances other than ignorance, which is what I tend to ascribe to everyone I see in the parking lot there.


vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Putting economics and politics aside, going into a Wal-Mart is a degrading experience. At least in these parts, the stores are messy and dirty, the aisles are nearly impassible, items are hard to find, and there are never enough checkout clerks at peak times.

This isn't snobbery talking -- I used to love some of the old discounters in the Northeast, like Bradlees and Caldor.

If there aren't good locally owned discounters in your area, you'll have a much more pleasant experience at a Target (or for clothes, a place like Kohls), and you'll still get items at an attractive price.

Just for crimes against the aesthetics of shopping, do yourself a favor and avoid Wally World.

My understanding is that the Bush-the-elder administration implemented something called, euphemistically, "streamlining," in which meat inspectors became employees of meat-packers rather then of the Federal government, as had been the case since Progressive-era reforms of the meat industry. Am I correct in my recollection?

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

Having a Wal-Mart come into an area like South Side Chicago really is a big deal because A&P and Jewell and Kroger pulled out a long time ago.

yes, and yes. rural or urban ultrapoor, i've done em both. and when you don't have any choices, even a walmart can seem like a "good." no one else gives a shit if you starve, or have only mcdonald's to feed to your kids.

walmart is evil, but they understand upon whom and which markets are easiet to fob off their shit. the poor, the truly poor. who don't have the time or freedom to ask the questions many of us take for granted.

predatory capitalism is like this; it doesn't leave you many choices and doesn't care if you die "participating" in it.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

still come in two flavors: the USDA guys, whose hierarchy I know little about, and the State of Texas DSHS guys, who are state employees.

Thanks to Tom DeLay and the "kill your government" movement, where Texas used to employ meat inspectors who could actually spend a whole shift on the plant floor at every plant, though, we now have 1 guy doing the work that 6 did when Ann Richards was in the state house.

Kinda like all the rest of our social services and public-health related work. They do still have to be licensed sanitarians, though.

We have more meatpacking plants and more feedlots now. We're getting an influx of dairy operations (California environmental regulations are just ssooooooo awful, donchakno!!!) Our CRP program's been gutted to raise CORN in the Panhandle -- a crop that requires even MORE water than cotton does, in a desert.

Chuy. I wish we'd never "selected" this oil-based Presidont!!!!

We can admit that we're killers ... but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes! Knowing that we're not going to kill today! ~ Captain James T. Kirk, Stardate 3193.0

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

i work at krogers, and i prefer wal-hell over them. at our store, i have seen big ugly bugs brought in from mexico in the produce... do you really want those big brown bugs crawling on your food?? the walmart that is also close to my home looks a lot cleaner inside.. the management is strict their, but as a krogers emplyee, i still think i like walmart better when can get their.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

I wash my produce when I get it home.
If you're in the produce department when you're working, are you responsible for the sanitation there?