Some 143 million pounds of ground beef (that’s a lot of meat balls) has been recalled by Westland/Hallmark Meat Company out of Chino, CA. The move is probably more out of a need to save face in the realm of public opinion than out of a genuine health concern, however.
On Jan. 30, the Humane Society of the United States distributed a video that exposed the company’s cruel practices in its raising and slaughtering of cattle. It is believed that much of the meat has already been consumed, but the risk of the meat being tainted by pathogens such as mad cow disease is very low.
Agriculture officials said there was little health risk from the recalled meat because the animals had already passed pre-slaughter inspection and much of the meat had already been eaten. In addition, the officials noted that while mad cow disease was extremely rare, the brains and spinal cords from the animals â€” the area most likely to harbor the disease â€” would not have entered the human food chain.
The video not only illustrated the company’s inhumane practices, but also raised questions of the meat’s safety since cows that are unable to walk run a high risk of contracting mad cow disease. The video features Westland/Hallmark employees “kicking sick cows and using forklifts to force them to walk.” In a statement released on the Westland/Hallmark Web site, president Steve Mendell wrote:
Words cannot accurately express how shocked and horrified I was at the depictions contained on the video that was taken by an individual who worked at our facility from October 3 thru November 14, 2007. We have taken swift action regarding the two employees identified on the video and have already implemented aggressive measures to ensure all employees follow our humane handling policies and procedures. We are also cooperating with the USDA investigators on the allegations of inhumane handling treatment which is a serious breech of our company’s policies and training.
The recall was called voluntarily, and the Department of Agriculture has temporarily suspended Westland/Hallmark as a supplier to federal nutrition programs. Also, charges of felony animal cruelty have been filed against Westland/Hallmark employee Daniel Agarte Navarro and misdemeanor charges have been issued to Luis Sanchez.