Orange County is known for top quality restaurants and award winning schools, but in recent weeks, restaurants and schools on the food distribution list of Chino-based Hallmark -Westland Meat Company are scrambling to distance themselves from the largest beef recall in U.S. history.
Last month, an explosive undercover video showed sick animals shoveled by forklifts, crippled cattle being prodded and other cruel acts. A Westland employee, working undercover for the Humane Society shot the video to expose the inhumane treatment of animals going to the slaughterhouse, but now it has opened up scrutiny to just how did this award-wining slaughterhouse, under the watchful eye of two federals agencies, succumb to probable bankruptcy and the largest recall in history.
After purchasing Hallmark meat Company in 2000, Steven Mendell wasted no time in turning the slaughterhouse into a state-of-the-art facility. The goal was to acquire one the federal government most lucrative accounts-The National School Lunch Program. Mendell invested millions in upgrades; stainless steel equipment, new floor and ceilings, and soon it became a top beef processor. In 2004, Mendell was named “Supplier of the year” for the program. Even though the company had minor violations, the firm always said that the workers involved had been retrained and all animals were being treated humanely.
Ironically, if it wasn’t for an undercover, Humane Society inspector, none of these problems would be known today. The main problem within the slaughterhouse is the killing of sick cows or “downer” cows-cows that can’t stand alone. Sick cows pose a risk of spreading mad cow disease, salmonella or E. coli and the USDA, United States Department of Agriculture, has banned their meat from entering the food supply.
Mad Cow Disease or BSE, bovine spongiform encephalopathy is a rare condition that affects people that have eaten beef from diseased cows. Although very rare, if humans eat this poisoned beef they can contract a serious and always fatal disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). The huge problem with this disease is that no one knows how long the incubation period is. However, most experts agree that it takes years, if not decades to actual get the disease from the time you initially eat the contaminated food. This makes possible personal injury correlation from contaminated beef consumption almost impossible.
On average, around 250-300 cases of CJD are reported in the United States. Recently a Kansas man died of CJD after working in a meat packing plant for over 20 years.
The Department of Agriculture’s set of rules is to have veterinarian inspect any cow that can’t walk to the slaughterhouse on its own. If they can’t stand, for obvious reasons, they are not supposed to go into the food supply. It is always the veterinarian’s call as to the health of the cow. In the Westland case, the Food and Safety Inspection service determined “the food was unfit for human food due to the cattle not receiving proper inspection”. Know your rights when you have been a victim of defective products.
Unfortunately, most of the meat in questioned has been eaten. Currently 21 of the 28 Orange County School Districts have been affected. Visit www.fns.usda.gov for a complete list of schools affected. Along with schools, numerous restaurants, hospitals, and retail outlets have been involved. The whole incident is such a tragedy for the public in general. We depend on government inspectors to do their job, but as in so many cases, they are overworked, underpaid, and the innocent consumer gets the raw deal.