The Department of Agriculture, USA (USDA), is recalling 64.9 million kilos of beef (144 million lbs); this is the largest recall in American history. Authorities say the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co, California meat plant did not appear to comply with regulations after a series of inspections. The USDA informs that the plant is also under investigation for alleged cruelty to animals.
A large proportion of this meat was destined for schools and federal nutrition programs – some was also to go to some fast-food chains.
Authorities stress the danger to human health is minimal. This is a Class 2 recall – the chances that the meat could harm humans are remote.
The recalled meat dates back to February 1st, 2006. Officials believe most of it has already been consumed.
Officials inform that the meat plant did not consistently carry out inspections of cattle which were not able to walk before being slaughtered – “downer cattle”. Cattle that cannot walk in the slaughterhouse have a higher chance of becoming infected with E. coli, salmonella, or BSE (mad cow disease) because they are come into greater contact with animal feces and generally have poorer immune systems. Regulations specify that such cattle should either be re-inspected thoroughly or taken out of the food supply.
A secret video recording that had been carried out by the Human Society of America exposed practices, such as the prodding of crippled animals with forklift truck blades, the application of electric shocks, and kicking by staff, which eventually led to the suspension of operations at the plant. Two employees, who no longer work at the plant, were charged. According to the company, measures have been taken to ensure humane handling of the animals.
Statement by US Secretary of Agriculture, Ed Schafer
“Today, USDA is announcing additional actions as a result of the ongoing investigation at Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has evidence that Hallmark/Westland did not consistently contact the FSIS public health veterinarian in situations in which cattle became non-ambulatory after passing ante-mortem inspection, which is not compliant with FSIS regulations. Because the cattle did not receive complete and proper inspection FSIS has determined them to be unfit for human food and the company is conducting a recall.
The United States enjoys one of the safest food supplies in the world. To help ensure the safety of the food supply, we implement a series of safeguards to protect against foodborne disease. These safeguards include in-plant procedures to reduce dangerous foodborne pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella. It also includes the removal of specified risk materials-those tissues demonstrated to contain the bovine spongiform encephalopathy agent in infected cattle-from the human food chain, along with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 1997 ruminant to ruminant feed ban. The prohibition of non-ambulatory cattle from the food supply is an additional safeguard against bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
Upon notification of possible violations of USDA regulations, we immediately began an investigation and placed products from this plant destined for the National School Lunch Program, the Emergency Food Assistance Program and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations on hold. Since then, we also suspended all Federal food and nutrition program contracts with Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company. To date, Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company remains suspended by the Food Safety and Inspection Service. The products destined for the Federal food assistance programs, including the National School Lunch Program, will now be removed from schools and other holding facilities and destroyed.
I am dismayed at the in-humane handling of cattle that has resulted in the violation of food safety regulations at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company. It is extremely unlikely that these animals were at risk for BSE because of the multiple safeguards; however, this action is necessary because plant procedures violated USDA regulations.
In addition, our Office of the Inspector General and the Food Safety and Inspection Service continue the investigation. We will respond immediately if further findings warrant. Details about this recall and USDA actions are available at www.usda.gov/actions.”
Written by – Christian Nordqvist