Is milk dangerous?
The USDA and Northwest Dairy Association, of which WestFarm Foods is a subsidiary, say not, but the International Brotherhood of Teamsters isn't sure.
Since the first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the United States was found in a cow from a Mabton dairy three weeks ago, the USDA has insisted that BSE can't be passed through milk. But the Teamsters say there isn't enough information.
Garnet Zimmerman, spokesperson for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said the organization hopes a ban on milk and milk products from potentially infected cows will force further investigation into the possibility that milk can pass BSE to humans.
"Though I have read that tests have shown little evidence that bovine spongiform encephalopathy can be transmitted through a diseased animal's milk, it is believed that prions, the proteins that cause BSE, can be carried by white blood cells, which are present in milk," said International Brotherhood of Teamsters Vice President and Director Fred Gegare.
According to the USDA, milk cannot be tested for the disease. USDA sources say the only way mad cow disease can be checked for is post-mortem. Brain tissue is required to test for the disease.
"We know the FDA went to great extent to recall all of the meat that was put out into the system," said Zimmerman.
With questions about the possibility of BSE in milk, he feels products, that Zimmerman said were most likely taken to the WestFarm Foods plant in Sunnyside, should also be recovered.
"There's not enough research not to do it," said Zimmerman.
He said milk from cows found with BSE in England was pulled from the shelves.
"There are still other cows out there (that possibly have BSE) that are still being milked," said Zimmerman.
Besides calming concerns of citizens, Zimmerman said not collecting milk from suspected animals will also ease employees of dairies and dairy processing plants.
He said when the USDA quarantined the animals there were people in yellow suits and face masks on the dairy, something employees at the plant don't have.
Zimmerman said the recall of milk is a way of putting consumers at ease, but Rae Klein, spokesperson for WestFarm Foods, says it's a tactic the union is using to scare consumers and gain leverage in an ongoing union battle.
Since the spring of 2003 employees of WestFarm Foods have been in union negotiations and last August, an employee lockout began at the Issaquah and Seattle plants.
"WestFarm Foods is saddened and disappointed that Teamsters Local 66 is attempting to link its totally unrelated labor dispute with the identification of a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in Washington state," said Klein.
She said state, federal and international officials, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the World Health Organization and the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, have repeatedly confirmed that milk products don't contain or transmit BSE.
In addition, a non-profit study by TAFS, an international group of scientists and food experts, revealed in May 2003 that milk and milk products are safe.
. Melissa Browning can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org