Posted on The Today Show - MSNBC.com
Associated Press - 3 March 2008
LOS ANGELES - An undercover video
showing crippled and sick animals being shoved with
forklifts has led to the largest beef recall in the
United States and a scramble to find out if any of the
meat is still destined for school children’s lunches.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on
Sunday ordered the recall of 143 million pounds of beef
from a Southern California slaughterhouse that is the
subject of an animal-abuse investigation.
The recall will affect beef products
dating to Feb. 1, 2006, that came from Chino-based
Westland/Hallmark Meat Co., the federal agency said. The
company provided meat to various federal programs.
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
'Unfit for human food'
“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
A phone message left for Westland
president Steve Mendell was not returned Sunday.
Agriculture officials said the massive
recall surpasses 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 likely small.
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.
Federal officials suspended operations
at Westland/Hallmark after an undercover video from the
Humane Society of the United States surfaced showing
crippled and sick animals being shoved with forklifts.
Two employees charged with animal
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
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
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 from Westland/Hallmark.
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
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 since they typically
wallow in feces and their immune systems are often weak.
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.
Testing our luck
“Today marks 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
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.”