Schools pull beef off table
A federal examination has been started into a supplier's methods
STORY SUMMARY »
Hawaii public schools will keep some of their beef in the freezer while the federal government investigates allegations of animal cruelty and food safety violations by a major supplier of the government's National School Lunch Program.
Cafeterias across the state were instructed yesterday to store any beef they might have from Hallmark Meat Packing Co., which supplies meat that the U.S. Department of Agriculture distributes to schools, needy families and seniors.
An undercover video investigation by the Humane Society into the company's slaughter plant in Chino, Calif., showed workers forcing "downed" cows into a federally inspected slaughterhouse. Food safety regulations prohibit sales of meat from sick animals because they are at a higher risk of carrying diseases.
The plant supplies the Westland Meat Co., from which Hawaii received 360,000 pounds of beef last year, the 10th-highest consumer among 36 states, according to the Humane Society.
A federal recall list of beef did not include Hawaii, but the state Department of Education says it will not use Westland meat to prepare lunches until the federal probe is completed.
Who got Westland beef
Hawaii was among the top 10 states receiving the most ground beef from Westland Meat Co. last year. The company is being investigated for alleged mistreatment of cattle and food safety violations.
Source: Humane Society
||POUNDS OF BEEF
| 1. California
| 2. Texas
| 3. Oklahoma
| 4. Ohio
| 5. Washington
| 6. Iowa
| 7. Georgia
| 8. Louisiana
| 9. Arizona
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A worker walked Wednesday on top of cattle carcass scraps dropped into a truck at the Hallmark Meat Packing slaughterhouse in Chino, Calif. Video footage showed workers at Hallmark Meat Packing repeatedly kicking cows and ramming them with the blades of a forklift as the animals squealed in pain. Hallmark supplies the Westland Meat Co., which processes the carcasses.
Hawaii public schools have stopped cooking meals with beef packed by a California company under investigation for alleged animal cruelty and violation of food safety rules.
The state Department of Education told all of its 285 schools yesterday "to immediately cease" using meat from Hallmark Meat Packing Co., a major supplier for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National School Lunch Program.
The move came in response to a Humane Society video investigation that recorded plant workers kicking, shocking and forcing "downed" cows -- considered too sick or injured to walk -- into a federally inspected slaughterhouse. Food safety regulations prohibit sales of meat from downed animals because they are at a higher risk of carrying diseases.
A recall list of ground beef the USDA sent to dozens of state agencies and departments across the country did not include Hawaii, but isle schools are keeping Hallmark beef stored pending results of the federal probe, said Education Department spokeswoman Sandy Goya.
Schools will still serve hamburgers, beef and bean burritos and other meat-based lunches with products the Education Department gets from other companies, officials said.
Hallmark's slaughter plant in Chino, Calif., supplies the Westland Meat Co., which the USDA named "supplier of the year" in 2004-2005.
Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said he was "deeply concerned" about the case and indefinitely barred distribution of any meat coming from the slaughterhouse. The company halted operations at the plant, fired two employees shown in the video and suspended their supervisor.
"There is no immediate health risk that we are aware of," Schafer said.
Last year the USDA paid Westland $38.7 million for more than 27 million pounds of ground beef. Of that, 360,000 pounds were sent to Hawaii, the 10th-highest consumer among 36 states, according to data obtained by the Humane Society. California received the most Westland meat, nearly 8 million pounds, figures show.
Most of the meat shipped to the islands, about 76 percent, came to Honolulu, followed by Hilo, Kahului and Lihue.
For the 2007-08 school year, public schools have gotten 275,800 pounds of ground beef, said Sue Uyehara, director of the Office of Hawaii Child Nutrition Programs. She could not immediately say how much, if any, of that came from Westland.
The state's USDA-funded Emergency Food Assistance Program, which feeds low-income families through the Hawaii Foodbank and other organizations, does not receive Westland beef, said program specialist Bobby Gocong. Hawaii food stamp recipients also are not affected because they can buy food at stores, said Human Services Department spokesman Alan Eyerly.
"We wouldn't have any control over that," he said.
The Humane Society video, released Wednesday after a six-week undercover investigation, shows plant employees ramming cows with the blades of a forklift, jabbing them in the eyes and torturing them with a hose and water.
Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society, called the mistreatment of downed cows alarming to U.S. meat consumers.
"We need to know how this food is getting to the table," he said. "Even when downed animals appear otherwise healthy, they may be harboring dangerous pathogens."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.