Thursday, February 14, 2008

School Lunch Program - Got Beef?

In case you haven't heard... the Hallmark/Westland Meat Company story is shocking parents across the country while School lunch program operators across the nation are being instructed by USDA officials to "pull the beef from school lunch lines as a precaution."
Video shot at the Chino slaughterhouse during an undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States shows downed cows, animals that are too sick to walk, being prodded with forklifts, poked in the eyes and blasted with water.

"The attempt was to make them so distressed and to cause them so much suffering that these animals would get up and walk into the slaughterhouse," said Wayne Pacelle with the Humane Society.[link]

The Humane Society of the United States says it turned over a video showing cattle being abused at a Chino slaughterhouse to the San Bernardino County district attorney's office in December. After a month with no legal action, the animal protection agency posted some of the video on its Web site this week and turned over 96 minutes of recordings to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees slaughterhouses.[Emphasis added - link]

The U.S. Department of Agriculture launched an investigation into the company on Wednesday after the Humane Society of the United States released a video that appears to document workers abusing cows that are too injured or weak to stand. (link)

...and were it not for the undercover video filmed by the Humane Society, what would have happened?

After all, Westland and its parent company, Hallmark Meat, are "the second largest supplier of beef to the USDA's commodity procurement branch, which distributes the beef to needy families, the elderly, and also the schools throughout the national school lunch program," according to the Humane Society of the United States. (link)

The USDA Response to the Media Attention?
The USDA, in its news release, said it was "unfortunate" the Humane Society "did not present this information to use when these alleged violations occurred in the fall of 2007."

The Humane Society, in its statement, said it had turned the information over to "California law enforcement officials" at that time, and "local authorities asked for extra time before public release of the information." (link)

Sidenote: Yes siree, I imagine the USDA would have liked to see the video back in fall of 2007... maybe it would have prevented them from buying "...more than 27 million pounds of ground beef from Westland in 2007 as part of the government-subsidized National School Lunch Program." (Emphasis added - link)

In another Response from USDA:
In any case, there's no evidence that meat from so-called 'downer' cattle entered the food supply, USDA official Kenneth Petersen told reporters during a telephone news conference Friday. (link)

And another:
Federal officials emphasized that a hold is not the same thing as a recall. The beef could later be used if the USDA OKs its safety. (link)

And in case you didn't know this;
...Westland, the second-largest supplier of beef for the National School Lunch Program, was named "supplier of the year" in 2004-2005 by the Agriculture Department. It has delivered beef to schools in 36 states.

The USDA today stopped Westland from supplying meat to federal food and nutrition programs pending the outcome of its investigation. While the workers in this video have been fired, the Humane Society says the most shocking thing about the abuse shown here is that it happens all the time.

Some responses from the political side:
February 1, 2008-- Congressman Leonard Boswell is pushing the USDA to examine recent reports of inhumane treatment of animals. (link)

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, sent letters Wednesday to the agriculture secretary and the head of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) asking for an immediate investigation into the safety of ground beef being used in the National School Lunch Program. "The treatment of animals in this video is appalling, but more than that, it raises significant concerns about the safety of the food being served to our nation's children," Durbin said. (link)

Federal regulations call for keeping downed cows out of the food supply because they may pose a higher risk of carrying E. coli, salmonella contamination or mad cow disease. (link)

Several School Boards across the country have been pulling beef from the menu until they can be certain no supplies came from Westland. Some of those School Boards reporting in the news are located in the following states (partial list, no specific order): California, Washington, Oregon, South Dakota, Illinois, Minnesota, Utah, Hawaii, Florida, Texas, Iowa and New York. For a large (and growing) list of news reports on this story, check out this link.

Now I'm guessing that Hallmark Meat Packing has become the "hallmark" brand for how NOT to run a slaughterhouse/packing plant?

Aw, heck, here's one more reported USDA response worth mentioning:
USDA officials said that despite the apparent abuses, Westland meat products have always passed stringent government purity standards, and they do not believe the company's beef is unhealthy. (link)

What the ...?

Even if you don't get sick eating the Hallmark/Westland stuff, you might get sick watching the 96 minutes of video. Yes, there are animal rights violations. Now that's an education our kids shouldn't have to receive -- in any manner, shape or form -- because it simply shouldn't BE happening -- PERIOD.

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