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Feds suspend Calif. meatpacker pending probe of animal abuse

Feds suspend Calif. meatpacker pending probe of animal abuse

By Lisa Keefe on 1/31/2008 for Meatingplace.com

USDA has suspended Westland Meat Co. of Chino, Calif., as a supplier to the agency's National School Lunch Program after the Humane Society of the United States posted on its Web site a video chronicling abuse of cattle at a supplier's slaughterhouse.

An HSUS member working undercover at Hallmark Meat Packing Co., also a Chino, Calif.-based company that is related to and supplies Westland, captured the footage, HSUS says.

"I am deeply concerned about the allegations made regarding inhumane handling � in a federally inspected slaughter establishment," said Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer in a statement. "I have called on the Office of the Inspector General � to conduct an investigation into this matter."

The video shows workers prodding downer cattle � apparently with electric prods � spraying high-intensity water through their noses and ramming them with the blades of a forklift. The workers reportedly were trying to get the cattle on their feet before a USDA inspector arrived for daily inspection.

USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service generally prohibits such abuse as well as the use of downer cattle, or non-ambulatory cattle, which pose a higher risk of carrying bovine spongiform encephalopathy and other diseases, and their tissue in human food.

Put on hold

Westland has been suspended indefinitely pending USDA's investigation, which means it cannot produce nor deliver products currently under contract. The company also cannot sign further contracts. The agency has put on hold all products in or destined for federal food and nutrition programs, Schafer said.

Steve Mendell, president and CEO of Westland Meat Co., the second-largest supplier of meat to the National School Lunch Program, said in a statement that two workers violated the company's animal welfare standards and have been fired. Their supervisor has been suspended pending his explanation, he said.

"We are shocked, saddened and sickened by what we have seen today," Mendell said. "Operations have been immediately suspended until we can meet with all of our employees and be assured these sorts of activities never again happen at our facility."

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