Last Mother’s Day, 14-year old Alex Roerick from New Mexico ate beef shish kabobs at his Grandmother’s house in Colorado.
During June, Bonna Cannon served beef products to her son, C.W., that she had purchased in late April and mid-May at the Costco in Union Gap, WA.
On July 19th, Nicole Rosploch served her family hamburgers made from ground beef purchased at the Pick N Save near their home in Brookfield, WS.
Alex, C.W. and both Rosploch’s seven and 11-year old sons would come to share two things:
- All would suffer greatly after becoming infected with dangerous E. coli O157 bacteria; and
- Each would become a plaintiff suing the JBS Swift Co., a unit of JBS SA–the largest beef producer in the world.
Last April 21, the JBS Swift Beef Plant in Greeley, CO had a bad day. It produced and shipped an estimated 421,280 pounds of beef products that were contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 to its customers around the world.
Because JBS Swift had a bad day, by May 13, 2009, young Alex was experiencing fatigue, fever, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. After two days of worsening symptoms, Alex was admitted to Albuquerque’s Presbyterian Hospital.
Alex was treated for several days, and released. He then developed severe bloody diarrhea and was rushed back to the hospital. During his second stay, doctors determined the boy had developed Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), a devastating complication from his E. coli O157:H7 infection.
The genetic “fingerprint” of the E. coli found in Alex’s stool sample was a match to others in the nationwide outbreak caused by the beef JBS Swift produced on April 21.
C.W.’s gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea and abdominal cramps, began around June 18, 2009. He’d been eating that beef bought at Costco and supplied by JBS Swift all month. At 2 a.m. the next day, his diarrhea turned bloody. He was rushed to the emergency room at Memorial Hospital in Yakima, WA. The ER gave him intravenous fluids for hydration and anti-nausea medications.
He was sent home around 7 a.m., but his condition only got worse. Much worse.
C.W. was writhing in pain and his bouts of diarrhea now consisted only of blood. His mother took him back to the ER. His extreme dehydration made it difficult for nurses to find a vein to administer the badly needed intravenous fluids. C.W. was admitted at Memorial, and he tested positive for E. coli O157:H7.
Blood tests revealed C.W.’s kidneys were beginning to fail and doctors opted to transfer him by ambulance over the Cascade Mountains to Seattle’s Children’s Hospital, three hours away.
There his parents learned that C.W.’s E. coli O157:H7 infection had evolved into HUS. He was put on dialysis immediately, which continued nonstop for almost two weeks. At Children’s, he suffered from a prolapsed rectum and required transfusion of packed red blood cells.
When discharged on July 8th, C.W.’s kidneys had not recovered. He is on high blood pressure medication and his mother gives him daily hormone injections to stimulate red blood cell production.
His E. coli O157:H7 stool sample also produced the genetic “fingerprint” matching to the JBS outbreak and recall, which occurred between June 24 and 28.
Only Nicole Rosploch escaped illness after serving hamburgers on Sunday, July 19th. She is a vegetarian. Husband Gerard and their two boys were all suffering by the following Thursday from abdominal cramps and nausea.
On Friday, their seven-year old was experiencing vomiting and diarrhea, some of it bloody. His parents took the youngster into the ER, where he submitted a stool sample. While at the ER with the younger son, the 11-year old was vomiting more and his diarrhea was getting worse.
The Rosploch family left the ER, but soon returned because the seven-year old was not getting any better. On the second trip, they learned their son’s stool sample showed he had E. coli O157:H7. He was admitted and additional tests revealed he had HUS. The little boy spent the next ten days on dialysis and required numerous blood transfusions.
Gerald Rosploch’s illness was never as bad as his boys’, but going back and forth between home and hospital while not feeling well was not easy. The 11-year old improved at home. The seven-year old’s stool sample was a genetic match to the JBS outbreak.
At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, the “Multistate Outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 Infections Associated with Beef from JBS Swift Company” was tracked through June 30th.
By then 23 people in nine states had the particular “DNA fingerprint” that was linked to the JBS recall and outbreak.
So, we have the world’s largest beef producer being responsible for the largest beef-related E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in 2009. It caught many off-guard because the entry of JBS into such a dominant position in the U.S. beef industry has been both recent and quick.
Dick and Charlie Monfort, who today are the executives who own and run
the Colorado Rockies baseball team, probably would still have no
trouble finding their way around the meat packing plant they once owned
60 miles north of Denver in Greeley, CO.
They might have a harder time finding the gleaming headquarters
building for JBS USA, which today owns that Greeley packing plant and
15 other JBS Swift operations in the United States.
The JBS USA headquarters building is located in “The Promontory” is as
far away to the west as you can get from the meat processing facility
the Monfort family sold to ConAgra for $300 million in 1987 and still
be in Greeley.
What Monfort Inc. sold became ConAgra Red Meats. It was next sold to
an investor group and became part of Swift & Company. Two years
ago, all Swift & Company operations in the U.S. were swept up for
$1.4 billion cash by JBS SA, which is today the world’s largest beef
How big? JBS has the capacity to kill, process, and pack 80,000 head of
cattle per day. JBS operations include 22 in Brazil, 6 in Argentina, 10
in Australia, 10 in Italy, and the 16 in the US.
From his new offices with striking views of Colorado’s Front Range,
Wesley Batista, President and CEO of JBS USA, can probably get to his
estate-size home in Fort Collins, CO faster than he can drive through
Greeley’s clogged street traffic to the meat plant on the east side of
But it was in that Greeley plant on that bad day in April that cattle
were slaughtered and processed into meat contaminated with E. coli
O157: H7. That bad day’s work had to be recalled, but not until much
had been eaten.
Bad beef and ownership turnovers are part of the Greeley Beef Plant’s
long history. Dick Monfort was still on board as a ConAgra executive
when the Greeley plant suffered through its largest recall of 19
million pounds of ground beef for E. coli contamination in 2002.
The darkest moment for the company and surrounding community came in
December 2006 when federal agents raided six Swift operations in the
U.S., including the Greeley plant, and arrested a total of about 1,200
employees for alleged immigration violations.
Critics charged the raid was politically motivated to send a message to other employers.
Cultural issues flared again last year when JBS Swift fired about 100
Muslim-practicing immigrants from Somalia who wanted their meal breaks
scheduled to accommodate their religious needs during Ramadan and
walked out in protest after their requests were not accommodated.
The federal Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) ruled JBS must either
give the Muslims their jobs back or negotiate settlement. This year,
JBS has made schedule changes to accommodate Muslims working during
Both sides say cultural differences have been worked out and everything is fine.
Also working out cultural differences is Wesley Batista, the Brazilian
son of the 75-year old founder of JBS. He took on the job of CEO for
JBS Swift USA because of his hands-on management style and experience
in running beef processing plants. When he arrived in Greeley two
years ago, he wanted to work on his English before doing any public
Although he is still working on his English, Batista has responded to
demands to speak to cattlemen and community leaders where JBS Swift
plants are located. Cattlemen are said to be less suspicious after
hearing him and community leaders are downright giddy.
Immediately after the recall, Batista spoke to the Colorado Livestock
Association. The beef recall had been announced a couple of days
earlier, but had not yet been expanded to 421,280 pounds and linked to
the multi-state E. coli O157:H7 outbreak by CDC.
If Batista mentioned the recall to the cattlemen, the local
newspaper must not have thought it was important. What was important
was talk about investment in cattle.
“Without cattle, we don’t have an industry. We invested $3 billion here
and we have only one raw product and that is cattle,” Batista said. “We
are very optimistic and we are starting to see growth all over the
world. There is some great opportunity out there and we all need to
work towards that.”
In addition to the new headquarters, Greeley has benefited from JBS
adding a 250-truck transportation unit, expanding operations, adding
shifts, and employing 1,500 more people. With two shifts going, the
Greeley beef plant can process 6,000 cattle per day.
JBS Swift sought to become the largest beef producer in the U.S., but
the Bush Justice Department in October 2008 filed a challenge to its
$560 million purchase of Kansas City-based Natural Beef. Cattlemen
worried about “unbridled concentration” in the industry.
JBS pulled out of the sale, leaving it No. 3 in the U.S. behind Tyson
and Cargill. It did, however, buy the Smithfield Beef Group,
including the Five Rivers Cattle feed lot operation, last year.
Now called “JBS Five Rivers,” it has ten feed yards with a one-time
capacity to fatten 820,000 head of cattle in four different states
adjacent to the existing JBS slaughter facilities. Almost two million
head of cattle were fattened in these feed yards in the last twelve
And while Batista was talking beef during the recall, now the street is
reacting to market rumors that JBS might buy poultry producer Pilgrim’s
Pride out of bankruptcy. Only Tyson currently processes beef, pork,
and poultry; and holds the title of the nation’s No. 1 meat producer.
But when Tyson looks in its rear-view mirror, it probably sees the
letters JBS not far behind.
Regardless of company size or possible diversification, victims hope there will be no more bad days.