By Victoria Kim
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
February 6, 2008
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has shut down operations at a Chino slaughterhouse accused of supplying meat from at-risk cattle and treating weak animals cruelly.
The agency's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced late Tuesday that it was indefinitely suspending inspection at Hallmark Meat Packing, an action that in effect bars the supplier from slaughtering and producing meat while authorities investigate the allegations.
The meatpacker clearly violated "federal regulations and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act," USDA undersecretary for food safety Richard Raymond said in a statement.
After the release of a video from the Humane Society of the United States, the USDA last week suspended the company's contracts for federal food programs. The video showed slaughterhouse workers forcing "downer" cows to their feet using sticks, electric prods and water hoses.
Westland Meat Co., Hallmark's distributor and a ground beef supplier for the National School Lunch Program, voluntarily halted operations at the time.
The latest suspension "prohibits the plant from operating until they submit a corrective action plan which addresses the humane handling issues," said Amanda Eamich, a spokeswoman for the inspection service.
Eamich said there was no clear evidence at the time that downer cows entered the food supply. Cows that are unable to walk are banned from human food because they show a higher occurrence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow disease.
But the Humane Society said it had "very clear documentation" on video of at least four downer cows being slaughtered for human food.
"The USDA inspection process clearly had a range of deficiencies," said Wayne Pacelle, chief executive of the society.
But Raymond, the USDA undersecretary, expressed confidence in the department's inspection system.
"We maintain an inspection system that safeguards the safety and wholesomeness of our food supply," he said in a statement.
Like I need another reason to keep my kids from buying lunch. Like I need another example of how an industrialized food supply is costing us. For those that don't know what a downer cow is, it's a cow that is sick from disease (mad cow or whatever)and can't walk. I can't help but think about the times I've visited a cattle farm and petted these gentle animals. I am beyond sad that these things continue to go on.