Government orders recall of 143M pounds of beef
Isle schools have withdrawn meat from a California site now under investigation
LOS ANGELES » The U.S. Department of Agriculture ordered the recall yesterday 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 on 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.
The recall will affect beef products dating to Feb. 1, 2006, that came from Chino, Calif.-based Westland/Hallmark Meat Co., the federal agency said.
The Hawaii Department of Education told all of its schools to stop cooking meals with beef packed by Hallmark Meat Packing Co. pending the results of the federal investigation into allegations of animal cruelty and violation of food safety rules, a DOE spokeswoman said late last month.
Last year Hawaii received 360,000 pounds of beef from Westland Meat Co., which distributes meat supplied by Hallmark.
That amount was the 10th largest in the country, according to the Humane Society.
For the current school year, Hawaii's public schools received 275,800 pounds of ground beef, but officials could not say how much of that, if any, came from Westland.
In the latest development, Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer said his department has evidence that Westland did not routinely contact its veterinarian when cattle became nonambulatory 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.
Federal officials suspended operations at Westland/Hallmark after an undercover Humane Society video surfaced showing crippled and sick animals being mistreated.
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 nonambulatory animal -- were filed against an employee who worked under that manager. Both were fired.
No charges have been filed against Westland, but the 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.
About 150 school districts around the nation have stopped using ground beef from Hallmark. Fast-food chains Jack-in-the-Box and In-N-Out said they would not use beef from Westland/Hallmark.
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 said.
Federal lawmakers had called Thursday 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 does not get to the public.