February 4, 2008
School districts coast to coast and some franchise restaurants are on full alert this week for suspect beef from a California slaughter house, where the Humane Society of the U.S. videotaped what appeared to be the slaughter of so-called "downer" cows.

"We're in contact with our suppliers, and they're in contact with their suppliers. It's a huge chain of activity," Joanne Tucker, a food services marketing coordinator for the San Diego Unified School District, told the Los Angeles Times.

Cows that cannot stand up are banned from the food supply because it is a primary characteristic of an animal with Mad Cow disease.

The Humane Society says it obtained video evidence that workers at the Hallmark Meat Packing Co. of Chino, California, repeatedly attempted to force "downed" animals onto their feet and into the human food chain.

In the video, workers are seen kicking cows, ramming them with the blades of a forklift, jabbing them in the eyes, and applying painful electrical shocks in attempts to force sick or injured animals to walk to slaughter.

"To see the extreme cruelties shown in The HSUS video challenges comprehension," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. "Our government simply must act quickly both to guarantee the most basic level of humane treatment for farm animals and to protect America's most vulnerable people, our children, needy families and the elderly from potentially dangerous food."

According to a HSUS release, Hallmark's Chino slaughter plant supplies the Westland Meat Co., which processes the carcasses. The facility is the second-largest supplier of beef to USDA's Commodity Procurement Branch, which distributes the beef to needy families, the elderly and also to schools through the National School Lunch Program.

Westland was named a USDA "supplier of the year" for 2004-2005 and has delivered beef to schools in 36 states. More than 100,000 schools and child-care facilities nationwide receive meat through the lunch program, according to HSUS.

"I have called on the Office of the Inspector General to work with FSIS and the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to conduct an investigation into this matter," said Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer. "As a result of the investigation, any violations of food safety or humane handling laws will be immediately acted upon."

USDA has indefinitely suspended Westland Meat Company as a supplier to federal food and nutrition programs, pending the outcome of the investigation. Schafer said Westland Meat Company will not be permitted to produce or deliver any products currently under contract.

Under the suspension, no further contracts will be awarded to Westland Meat Company. The suspension will remain in effect until all investigations are complete and appropriate action is taken by the department. An administrative hold has been placed on all Westland Meat Products that are in, or destined for federal food and nutrition programs.