The U.S. Department of Agriculture initiated the largest meat recall in U.S. history today, recalling 143 million pounds of beef from a macabre California slaughterhouse that chopped up downer cows—a rich source of mad cow disease—and sold them to school districts across the nation. The massive recall affects all beef produced by the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company after February 1, 2006.
Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer said his department has evidence that Westland did not routinely contact its veterinarian when cattle became non-ambulatory 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.
A phone message left for Westland president Steve Mendell was not immediately returned.
Federal officials suspended operations at Westland/Hallmark after an undercover Humane Society video surfaced showing crippled and sick animals being shoved with forklifts.
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 non-ambulatory animal — were filed against an employee who worked under that manager. Both were fired.
Authorities said the video showed workers kicking, shocking and otherwise abusing ”downer” animals that were apparently too sick or injured to walk into the slaughterhouse. Some animals had water forced down their throats, San Bernardino County prosecutor Michael Ramos said.
Over 100 school districts stopped using meat from the California plants, but not before children consumed 37 million pounds of affected beef. McDonald’s and Burger King do not use meat from Westland, while Jack in the Box and In-N-Out had ordered their suppliers to use other sources “until further notice.”