Economic Justice?

In the news… Topps will liquidate company after massive beef recall

Topps Meat, which issued the nation’s second-largest beef recall ever, has filed papers to liquidate the company.

Topps was one of the largest makers of frozen hamburgers before potentially fatal bacteria were found in its patties, compelling it to halt production and issue the recall on Sept. 29.

Six days later Topps said it was closing its business, after it was forced to issue the recall of 21.7 million pounds of frozen hamburger, which is one year’s worth of production.

In September, the USDA said three people were confirmed as getting E. coli from Topps products, with 22 other cases under investigation. Cases were found in Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Topps has up to 10,000 creditors and liabilities of $1 million to $100 million, according to its Chapter 7 filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Newark. The company put its assets in the same range.

The bankruptcy filing was made Wednesday.

In an economy where it seems all too often that there are no consequences for bad business practices, here is an instance when doing business the wrong way has resulted in the ultimate penalty for a company and its owners. One assumes that there are rules which require a company to have procedures and records to be able to give assurance of which, if any, part of an entire years production of product was defective. But even barring rules, good sense would dictate the same thing.

Mistakes happen. Problems can arise. To then have no mechanism to protect the enterpise is supposed to be inexcusable, and was in this instance. A bad batch of meat is clearly one thing. A bad years worth of production, or, really the same thing, an ability to show that a years worth of production is not all bad speaks of no one involved in the process really caring. Sadly, one party we expect to be a player in such things is FDA, and, yet, we are faced with a situation where proper involvement by government would have prevented a company from having to face the ultimate penalty for its bad business practices.

And this is not to ignore the plight of those made ill by a defective production process, but only to show that those who maintain that government is always the problem demonstrate that they have no idea how complex real life actually is.

Topps burgers contained at least three versions of the O157:H7 strain of E. coli bacteria, which can be fatal to humans. The strain is harbored in the intestines of cattle and can also get on their hides. Improper butchering and processing can cause the E. coli to get onto meat.

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