It was three years ago when Westland/Hallmark was the top school lunch supplier in the nation. The company, based in Chino, prided itself in providing quality meat products that met United States Department of Agriculture requirements.
Now it is the focus of an industry wide investigation into the meat industry and its practices on the heels of a beef recall by the USDA, which is the largest in U.S. history.
The controversy began with a video created by the Humane Society of the United States.
The video showed plant workers using several methods including forklifts and hoses to handle “downer animals,” or animals that are considered too weak or unhealthy to walk to the slaughter line.
A report in 2006 revealed that 12 companies slaughtered 29 downer cattle that could potentially have been infected with disease.
As a result, investigations have been launched by the U.S. Government Accountability office into the USDA’s supervision of these meat packing corporations.
The central target being Westland/Hallmark, which has sold meat to several school lunch programs and fast food restaurants like In-N-Out Burger and Jack In the Box.
In 2007, the federal government bought close to $40 million in beef from Westland/Hallmark. The company averages $100 million in sales a year.
Yet as the problems seem to stem from the meat packers, the USDA has not been fulfilling their duties either.
According to sources in the USDA and inspector’s union, nine percent of inspector positions across the country were not filled last year.
This includes a 12 percent vacancy for inspectors in the district belonging to Westland/Hallmark.
Inspectors have been understaffed and unable to accommodate all the positions nationwide.
Typically there are three inspectors at a slaughterhouse which include a veterinarian, slaughter-line inspector and floor inspector.
Many times these inspectors have had to double up their roles and inspect one area at a time.
This allows companies to block any area they do not want the inspector to view.
Workers would designate specific employees to be on walkie-talkies when inspectors entered and left areas while also designating others to distract them from sections of the slaughterhouse.
Consequently, these USDA inspectors have failed to potentially detect harmful diseases and infections like mad cow disease that can be derived from dead carcasses. It is also an inhumane practice and against animal rights.
Downer cattle should not be a practice of any slaughterhouse because of serious issues like serious disease and health hazards.
It is time for politicians and federal government agencies to respond to this issue swiftly with stricter meat packing regulations as well as increased funding for meat inspection in the near future.
The USDA needs renewed practices for awareness and quality so that this does not become a health danger for the public. People need to have peace of mind to consume meat products without hesitation or worry.
Meat packing companies must also take responsibility in cleaning up their act and following protocol according to proposed industry rules and regulations.
They must be able to restore the trust of the public, which rely heavily on meat products in their daily lives.
The first step lies with the federal government in cracking down on the USDA and finally on the companies that sell these products.
It is best for everyone that they oversee this problem before the potential threat of disease reaches American consumers.
The last thing people want is doubt in their next purchase of a meat product that could be harmful to their health.