It was only a couple of sick cows.

Wesland/Hallmark Meat Co. President Steve Mendell backs away from his previous statement that no sick cows made their way into the food supply after being forced to watch undercover video of abuses of cattle at his plant. Mendell watched, head-in-hand as sick cows were forklifted into the slaughter box.

Steve Mendell is pictured in the center of  this AP photo. Take a long look at the cost of declining business ethics and rising executive greed.

The undercover video was captured by the Humane Society which is not exactly a radical organization. Tossing a couple diseased cows into the food supply forced Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. to issue a recall of 143 million pounds of beef. About 50 million pounds of the beef went to school lunches. This guy, Steve Mendell, is willing to risk your kid’s health, maybe their lives, rather than properly euthanize and dispose of a few very sick cows.

“Our company is ruined. We cannot continue,” Mendell said. He added that 220 employees have lost or were about to lose their jobs.

Good. Shut them down. Then prosecute Mendell. Lock him up and throw away the key. Charge him with attempting to poison children. Too harsh? That’s what he did in order to make a few extra bucks.

Was it worth it? Did that little extra money from an occasional sick cow really add to the bottom line? Doesn’t look like it.

If this company had an ethics program in place, all of this would have been avoided. It must start at the top. Steve Mendell is responsible for this mess because he failed to set the standards of ethics at Westland/Hallmark Meat Co.  Had he cared enough about his customers to live an ethics standard, all this would have been avoided.

An ethics policy and program to live it is worth the cost. It frustrates me that so few CEOs understand this. An ethics program is profitable. Highly profitable.

The business community needs to take a close look at their moral compass because the public is growing fed up with corporate greed harming them.

Consider how many times statements like these have come up in this election cycle:

We have to quit rewarding companies that take American jobs overseas
We have to stop things like lead in children’s toys
We have to stop the big CEO paychecks while companies lay people off
We need to quit favoring companies with tax breaks while they make billions in profits

You’d better get started because the tide is rising.

I’d say it’s never too late to start an ethics program but that wouldn’t be true. It’s too late for Steve Mendell to start one at Westland/Hallmark Meat Co.

Chris Reich, Author of TeachU’s Business Talk Blog
[email protected]