So the system is inefficient, understaffed, and the inspectors are overwhelmed with an unmanageable workload. Welcome to the United States where Will Rodgers said it very well... "we have the worst system of government in the world... Except for all the rest." That does not invalidate the concept of a safe food-system. It may in fact be impractical to expect 100% security, but if one life is saved and that life is your wife or child - most people would consider it to be worth the effort.Indeed, what were these cows fed? The reports do not discuss this.
Nothing you have said changes the fact there is a risk involved - however small you claim that risk to be. You even listed several ways improper feed or handling can increase the risk. The consequences of that risk can be catastrophic and are completely preventable. If every producer - both large and small - were all completely ethical the system would be self-policing - and that place would be called Shangri-La. Greed and incompetence are not limited to the government o large Agra-Corps.
You might want to take a look at the article: Raw Milk - Real Risks - Wisconsin, Idaho, Georgia and Alaska Raw Milk Debate on the Food Poison Journal web site.
There you will find cases sited of real people infected with E. coli O157:H7 from raw milk and dairy products produced by local small organic dairies. I assume the producers were ethical and well intentioned. I don't know what the cows were fed. I am sure the customers looked them in the face and trusted that the product was safe. Consuming these products is not risk free and the risk is not negligible.
I grew up in a small Midwest farm community. My father was a small town doctor. We bought fresh pasteurized (not raw) whole milk direct from a diary farmer. We enjoyed home made sausage and home butchered meats often. I grew up hunting and fishing and trapping. Like I said before - I believe in a balance of personal freedom and community safety.
Organic does not mean that the animals were not fed grain, only that if they were that it was organically produced.
My argument is that grain feeding ruminants that are evolved to convert cellulose to protein is the issue. The Cornell study, and USDA have shown feeding ruminants high concentrations of carbohydrates leads to development of high intestinal acid and a perfect breeding ground for O157:H7. High density feed lots and high density mechanical dairy farming exponentially increase the bacterial risks. Whereas low density small farm meat and dairy production reduces those risks. This isn't even open to debate, it's completely proven.
I also agree to a point with both personal liberty and community safety. However the issue with the current system (that is seriously flawed) is that we have neither. Food production is a black box, collectively and individually we do not know where our food comes from, even if bought at a natural food store. Yet small producers are forced to incur prohibitive costs if they want to provide agricultural products to the local community, where that local community can actually see what and how the products they want and need are grown, and make an informed decision on the risk.
Here's a perfect example, suppose ConAgra has some meat product that is contaminated with E.Coli at 100 times bacterial infection levels (i.e. it will infect anyone eating it), well it and another 100 other cattle go into a bunch of hamburger, that's then distributed to fast food outlets, grocery stores, etc. Well then you have an outbreak that covers most of the country, while the discussion is hypothetical, this has happened many times. Now a small producer might make hamburger from one cow, so the risk of infection is statistically reduced even if the procedures used have the same risk as used in a huge commercial concern. Here's the math (using hypothetical percentages, but it illustrates a point), if the risk of infection of bovine fecal matter into the meat is 1% on slaughter, and after cleaning it reduces the risk by 90%, then the small producer has a risk of 0.1%. However every animal from the larger producer multiplies that risk by the animal count, so in a batch of hamburger that uses the meat of 100 cows, you now have a 10% risk. This also has much greater range since it's 100 times the amount and also distributed further. Whereas the small producer might infect 10 people locally (at a 0.1% risk), the AgroCorp infects 1000 nationally (with a 10% risk).
Overall this is obviously the worst of both worlds, higher infection rates and wider distribution. You may say, but if the contamination is the same then the local producers hamburger could infect many more, and yes indeed it could, the problem is though, that people eat a hamburger, if it's infectious or 100 times as infectious it's not relevant to the individual, since in both cases they're infected.
At the end of the day, to use a analogy we try to avoid putting our hands where we can't see them, yet daily we put food in our bodies that we have no idea where it came from, whether it was healthy, if it's a product of one animal or many, whether it's imported or home grown, how it was raised and fed. Yes community safety is important, but community safety begins with self responsibility, as responsible people we should not be delegating our safety to a faceless government bureaucracy, but ensuring our continued health and well being by being able to make informed decisions on what we eat.
I think the record of the USDA and FDA have more than proven that they are incapable of providing that level of scrutiny. What that level of scrutiny may be is up to the individual to decide, and weigh the risks. Most of the issues we currently see are because we have delegated our food safety decisions to that faceless bureaucracy, and at times an innumerable chain of unaccountable hands.
To spell it out, if you buy produce from a local farmer (without any regulation) and you or a family member gets sick, you know who to go and see, or sue, or shoot. If you buy produce from Wal-Mart and you and a family member gets sick, who's to blame? Every link in the chain can argue they are not to blame, Wal-Mart can say it wasn't them it was there supplier, their supplier can say it wasn't them it was their producers, the producers can say it wasn't them it was their slaughterhouses, the slaughterhouses can say it wasn't them it was the feed lot, the feed lot can say the FDA inspected them 3 months ago and they were clean, so it must have come from the livestock auction, where they've bought 20,000 cows from 50 different breeders in the past 2 months.
Each step on the chain the number of companies can increase too, so when you get down to slaughterhouses (even if there are only two of each) you're at 8 to chase down, who lead to 16 feed lots, who lead to 32 breeders. Or there are potentially 63 companies responsible, if you include yourself due to accidental spoilage (bad refrigeration, mishandling, etc.) that's 64 entities that could possibly be responsible. Or from your local farmer it could be one of two entities, you or the farm.