Unfortunately for the folks over at A Hamburger Today, the USDA issued a massive beef recall yesterday that will likely put a whole bunch of Americans off their steaks, burgers and fast food mystery meat for a while.
The recall of 143 million pounds of raw and frozen beef produced by the Chino-based Hallmark slaughterhouse and Westland meat packing company is one of the biggest in history. The beef is being recalled after the Humane society of the United States released video footage Jan. 30 showing cows that were too weak to walk being hit, prodded and manually shoved or dragged by forklift into the slaughterhouse.
Meat producers are prohibited from slaughtering and butchering non-ambulatory or “downer” cows because the condition can be a sign of disease. The Humane Society claims it has evidence of at least four such cows being slaughtered and packaged by Hallmark/Westland. Much of the meat was shipped to U.S. public schools as part of a contract with the School Lunch Program.
The Society posted the video on its website, along with a statement that reads, “this unacceptable cruelty potentially puts the food supply at risk—at least 12 of the 15 identified cases of mad cow disease in North America to date have reportedly been downers.” Officials initially said they didn’t have evidence to support a recall, but yesterday reversed that position and issued the recall order.
Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer stated yesterday,
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 [bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or “mad cow disease”] because of the multiple safeguards; however, this action is necessary because plant procedures violated USDA regulations.
In a Feb. 3 statement, Westland Meat Co. president Steve Mendell indicated that the violations were the work of two rogue employees:
Words cannot accurately express how shocked and horrified I was at the depictions contained on the video that was taken by an individual who worked at our facility from October 3 thru November 14, 2007. We have taken swift action regarding the two employees identified on the video and have already implemented aggressive measures to ensure all employees follow our humane handling policies and procedures. We are also cooperating with the USDA investigators on the allegations of inhumane handling treatment which is a serious breech of our company’s policies and training.
Because it can be difficult to determine which meat in the food supply comes from which cows, the recall may become more wide-ranging. The Los Angeles Times cited Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle as saying the recall may top a billion pounds.
USDA officials indicated the meat currently on supermarket shelves is likely not to have come from the Holland/Westland operation. From the LA Times:
Because Hallmark/Westland suspended operations in early February, it is unlikely that any of its fresh meat is still being sold. “That has a very [short] shelf life and refrigerator life, so the great majority has probably been consumed,” Richard Raymond, the USDA’s undersecretary for food safety, told reporters.
Hallmark/Westland meat was also sold to restaurant chains, including In-N-Out Burger and Jack in the Box, but both of those companies said they stopped using it early this month after the first reports of problems at the plant.
But public schools have reportedly taken beef of the menu for the time being, and MPSF will likely be ordering the chicken for the next few weeks. The video that started it all is posted below, but be careful. The images are VERY disturbing.
Huge beef recall issued [LA Times]
Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer statement [USDA]
Westland Meat statement [Company website]
Watch the video that led to the beef recall. Then take action! [Humane Society]