LOS ANGELES - The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Sunday ordered
the recall of 143 million pounds of frozen beef from a
California slaughterhouse, the subject of an animal-abuse
investigation, that provided meat to school lunch programs.
Officials said it was the largest
beef recall in the United States, surpassing a 1999 ban of 35
million pounds of ready-to-eat meats. No illnesses have been linked
to the newly recalled meat, and officials said the health threat was
The recall will affect beef products
dating to Feb. 1, 2006, that came from Chino-based Westland/Hallmark
Meat Co., the federal agency said.
Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer
said his department has evidence that Westland did not routinely
contact its veterinarian when cattle became non-ambulatory after
passing inspection, violating health regulations.
"Because the cattle did not receive
complete and proper inspection,
Food Safety and Inspection Service has determined them to be
unfit for human food and the company is conducting a recall,"
Schafer said in a statement.
A phone message left for Westland
president Steve Mendell was not immediately returned.
Federal officials suspended
operations at Westland/Hallmark after an undercover Humane Society
video surfaced showing crippled and sick animals being shoved with
Two former employees were charged
Friday. Five felony counts of animal cruelty and three misdemeanors
were filed against a pen manager. Three misdemeanor counts — illegal
movement of a non-ambulatory animal — were filed against an employee
who worked under that manager. Both were fired.
Authorities said the video showed
workers kicking, shocking and otherwise abusing "downer" animals
that were apparently too sick or injured to walk into the
slaughterhouse. Some animals had water forced down their throats,
San Bernardino County prosecutor Michael Ramos said.
No charges have been filed against
Westland, but an investigation by federal authorities continues.
Officials estimate that about 37
million pounds of the recalled beef went to school programs, but
they believe most of the meat probably has already been eaten.
"We don't know how much product is
out there right now. We don't think there is a health hazard, but we
do have to take this action," said
Dr. Dick Raymond, USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety.
Most of the beef was sent to
distribution centers in bulk packages. The USDA said it will work
with distributors to determine how much meat remains.
Federal regulations call for keeping
downed cattle out of the food supply because they may pose a higher
risk of contamination from
E. coli, salmonella or
mad cow disease because they typically wallow in feces and
their immune systems are often weak.
About 150 school districts around
the nation have stopped using ground beef from Hallmark Meat Packing
Co., which is associated with Westland. Two fast-food chains,
Jack-In-the-Box and In-N-Out, said they would not use beef
Jack in the Box, a San Diego-based company with restaurants
in 18 states, told its meat suppliers not to use Hallmark until
further notice, but it was unclear whether it had used any Hallmark
meat. In-N-Out, an
Irvine-based chain, also halted use of the Westland/Hallmark
beef. Other chains such as
Burger King said they do not buy beef from Westland.
Raymond countered a claim leveled by
Humane Society President and CEO Wayne Pacelle, who said a USDA
inspector was at the Westland plant for about two hours each day.
USDA inspectors are there at slaughterhouses "continuously," Raymond
Federal lawmakers on Thursday had
called for the
Government Accountability Office to investigate the safety of
meat in the National School Lunch Program.
Upon learning about the recall, some
legislators criticized the USDA, saying the federal agency should
conduct more thorough inspections to ensure tainted beef doesn't get
to the public.
the largest beef recall in U.S. history, and it involves the
national school lunch program and other federal food and nutrition
programs," said U.S.
Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Chairman of the Senate
Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. "This begs the
question: how much longer will we continue to test our luck with
weak enforcement of federal food safety regulations?"
Advocacy groups also weighed in,
noting the problems at Westland wouldn't have been revealed had it
not been for animal right activists.
"On the one hand, I'm glad that the
recall is taking place. On the other, it's somewhat disturbing,
given that obviously much of this food has already been eaten," said
Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers
Union. "It's really closing the barn door after the cows left."