Monday, February 18, 2008

Largest Recall Of Beef In US History

Hard to miss this top news story from last night:
USDA Orders Recall Of 143 Million Pounds Of Beef

I was watching this story since early February, when the undercover video appeared on YouTube. I opted not to post it because it's difficult to watch. I changed my mind.

Here's the original footage of animal treatment at a California slaughterhouse (Hallmark Meatpacking Company), taken over a six week period by the Humane Society (5:46 minutes):

Here's an Associated Press clip (1:48 minutes), based on the above footage, that summarized the situation a week after the video above went viral. It includes a statement by Hallmark/Westland President Steve Mendell:

"We are shocked, saddened, and sickened by what we have seen. Operations have been immediately suspended until we can meet with all of our employees and be assured these sorts of activities never happen again at our facility."
- Steve Mendell: Hallmark/Westland President
So far, the only people who have been punished for this have been the "pen manager" at Hallmark and his assistant. Food safety attorney Bill Marler in his blog post, It Is Easier To Catch The Small Fry, quotes local San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A. Ramos (who filed criminal charges against Hallmark/Westland):
"Maybe if the feds would put their considerable resources to work they could find a way to charge someone higher up than a "pen manager." "
The pen manager faces up to 8 years and 8 months in prison; his assistant faces up to 3 years. The LA Times in its article, Cruelty Charges Filed Against Slaughterhouse Boss, includes this quote from the assistant:
"Reached at his home Friday, Sanchez, a father of two, said he regretted his actions and that he was only following orders. "I did it because they ordered me to. I obeyed them; if not, I lost my job," Sanchez said in Spanish. "I knew it was illegal but they obliged me to do it." Sanchez said he is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico and that he worked at Hallmark for six years before he was fired last month. He is not represented by an attorney."
I come away from this with an understanding that product quality assurance and the protocol for animal treatment for a business that is "the second-largest supplier of ground beef to the National School Lunch Program" lies with a "pen manager".

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