Follow Ups | Post Followup | Back to Discussion Board | VegSource
See spam or
inappropriate posts?
Please let us know.

From: TSS ()
Date: February 9, 2008 at 8:00 am PST


Release No. 0037.08
Office of Communications (202)720-4623

Printable version
Email this page

Transcript of Press Briefing on Humane Handling Procedures of
Hallmark/Westfield Company

February 8, 2008


MODERATOR: Hello, everyone. I hope you are all here for the USDA update
regarding Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company. Again today we have Dr.
Kenneth Petersen, assistant administrator in the Office of Field Operations
for FSIS here at USDA; Bill Sessions, associate deputy administrator for
Livestock and Feed Programs for USDA Agriculture Marketing Service; and Eric
Steiner, associate administrator for Special Nutrition Programs for USDA's
Food and Nutrition Service.

Again, this is a media briefing. I know that we have others listening in,
but when we do get to the question and answer portion of this call, please
make sure that only members of the media queue in to ask a question. And
with that we'll get started with Dr. Kenneth Petersen. Thanks.

DR. KENNETH PETERSEN: Okay, thank you and good afternoon everybody. Thanks
again for joining us. We thought it would be helpful to give you some
updated information to where we are with our activities regarding
Hallmark/Westland Meat Company.

Since last week, FSIS has been quite diligently working with our partners in
USDA, including the Office of the Inspector General, to put facts to the
allegations that were made regarding Hallmark/Westland Meat Company. On
February 4, this past Monday, FSIS issued a Notice of Suspension based on
our findings that the establishment's humane handling procedures and
programs were insufficient to ensure that all animals were humanely handled
at that facility.

Accordingly, the plant cannot operate because we have suspended inspection.
Before they can resume operation, they will have to respond to the
deficiencies identified in their humane handling programs in a way that
ensures animals will be handled and slaughtered humanely.

To date there is no evidence to substantiate the allegations that downer
cattle entered the food supply. As you will recall from last week's
discussion, that was one of the pieces of information we wanted to look at
very carefully. We've looked at a lot of records, confirmed a lot of
information, and to date again there's no information to substantiate those
allegations. Nevertheless, we will continue to pursue any information to
make sure that that remains the case.

I'd like to briefly revisit what we in the department and really in the U.S.
government are doing regarding BSE controls in the food supply. The
prohibition of downer cattle from entering the food supply is only one
measure in an interlocking system of controls that the federal government
has in place to protect the safety of the public. Other BSE measures include
the feed ban that was put in place in 1997 by the Food and Drug
Administration that prevents feeding ruminant protein to other ruminants. In
addition, there's been ongoing surveillance for BSE in the cattle population
in the U.S. That began in 1990 and really in earnest since June 1, 2004.
USDA has sampled over 759,000 animals for BSE. These were largely high-risk
animals. Only 2 tested positive for BSE under that surveillance program.
Both animals were born prior to the feed ban being put in place in the U.S.,
and neither of those animals entered the food supply.

Then at slaughter plants of course we have a ban on nonambulatory disabled
cattle being allowed for slaughter, and that at slaughter plants really the
final strategy which as far as all of these interlocking strategies is
really the key one as far as the risk assessment tells us, the control and
removal of specified risk materials from entering the food supply. These
would be things such as spinal cord and other materials that plants
carefully look for and remove and inspection personnel ensure that they do
not enter the food supply.

So that's the over-arching strategy for control of BSE in the United States.

Finally, OIG, the Office of Inspector General, has now opened a case in this
matter and has taken the lead in the investigation; and FSIS and AMS,
Agricultural Marketing Service, will be assisting them as necessary. OIG
special agents have been assigned to the case and will examine pertinent
information, gather evidence, and conduct interviews as necessary. If
evidence of criminal conduct is found, the OIG will work with the Department
of Justice and U.S. Attorneys Office to pursue the matter.

And with that, we'll turn it over to Mr. Sessions.

MR. BILL SESSIONS: Good afternoon. This is Bill Sessions with the
Agricultural Marketing Service. As most of you may know, my agency is
responsible for developing the contractual specification requirements for
beef products purchased in federal Food and Nutrition Programs. We also
administer the contracting activity. The action taken by USDA to suspend
Westland Meat Company from producing and shipping products and receiving
further contracts for federal Food and Nutrition programs remains in effect.
The Agricultural Marketing Service is continuing to cooperate in the ongoing

With that, I'll turn it over to my colleague, Eric Steiner.

MR. ERIC STEINER: This is Eric Steiner with the Food and Nutrition Service.
USDA has extended the administrative hold on Hallmark/Westland Meat Company
products for up to an additional 10 calendar days. The original hold will
expire at midnight Saturday, February 9. The extended hold for up to an
additional 10 days will expire at midnight Tuesday, February 19. With that,
I turn it back to Corry.

MODERATOR: Great. Thank you all, and we will go to questions now.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Jennifer Kelligher, you may ask your question, and
please state your media name.

REPORTER: Agatha Jennifer Kelligher (sp) with Newsday in New York. Are there
any states being told to stop serving Westland products in their schools?

MR. ERIC STEINER: At this time, USDA has asked all schools at this time to
suspend the use of the Hallmark/Westland meat packing company products.

REPORTER: And how do schools know or how do people know if their schools are
using Westland products, or have used Westland products?

MR. BILL SESSIONS: That information is given out through the electronic
information distribution system by FNS, and I would assume that that
information would then be transmitted down to local school districts who
would in turn notify the participants in the School Lunch Program.

OPERATOR: Thank you. The next question comes from Janet Zimmerman. You may
ask your question, and please state your media.

REPORTER: Yes. This is Janet Zimmerman with the Press Enterprise. There's
been evidence that there were past violations of humane handling regulations
before at this plant. Can I get Dr. Petersen to address that?

DR. PETERSEN: Sure. Well, we of course looked into the record of the plant
which we do as part of any investigation. We'd look at what's been going on
in the recent past. Back in December of 2005, I had, from time to time I
schedule our own humane handling audit in these facilities. And that's done
by a humane handling expert in each one of my 15 district offices. And that
individual did a humane handling audit in December, and as a result of that,
she found several things. We would not characterize them as egregious in
nature, and so the appropriate action at that time was to put the plant on
notice that they had some regulatory violations.

And in that particular case that's what we call a noncompliance record or an
"NR." It's a written communication to the plant telling them what it is we
found and really in that particular "NR" the key finding-there were several,
but I think really one of the key ones was being overly aggressive on the
use of electrical prods to move cattle. If the facility is correctly
designed, generally cattle should be freely moving with minimal

And so what the driver was doing was just over what we call "hotshotting"
them, which is an electric prod, telling us a couple things: One, we would
have some questions about their layout, their design, but also some
questions about that individual's training.

And then the plant has some obligations to respond to our communication to
them, which they did promptly; and with how they are going to correct that
and prevent that from happening, you know, in the future.

Then we also had some facility concerns in that particular "NR", some,
basically, maintenance housekeeping issues that they also addressed.

And then they tell us what they're going to do, they put it in place, and
then we verify that it happens over time. So something two years ago that
was, as I said, a nonegregious finding. Jumpstart to where we are now two
years later, and we would consider that a substantial period of compliance,
a two-year period. And in fact that's what they did.

And then we have the recent findings where again we call into question what
they were doing. And what happened in this case is not inconsistent with
what we have happen elsewhere, where we do what we call progressive

We've given you some information before. Two years ago we had some concerns;
now we have some other recent concerns. And so the sanction in this case,
being a suspension of operations, is more severe.

So that's what happened then, and that's kind of how we followed up in
concert with the other information that we have now.

REPORTER: And that violation, the noncompliance in 2005, was that all they
had in their past? Because they are on the Quarterly Enforcement Report from
late 2002.

DR. PETERSEN: Yes. Okay. Now in 2002, as other agency activities we had some
activities related to E.coli 0157H7 food safety related issues, some
strategies that we pushed out nationwide, telling plants what we expect for
them to do as far as control of that pathogen. And we looked closely at
virtually every plant associated that would have any relationship to E.coli.
That was over 2,500 of them at the time. And they were put on notice for
some questions we had regarding their food safety system at that time.

They were one of many who had similar questions. That was related to some
recalls in other events we had associated with E.coli in the summer of 2002.
So that's really distinct from this. Again, that would be, in our view, from
an enforcement perspective, 2002 would be quite a while ago.

And then we look at, was there a substantial period of compliance? And
certainly on the E.coli front, as I think we suggested a little bit last
week, their recent history from both FSIS testing and really from AMS
testing, whether it be E.coli or Salmonella, they did have a substantial
positive track record as far as effective control for pathogens associated
with the food safety system.

REPORTER: Are you saying that they did test positive for E.coli in 2002?

MODERATOR: Excuse me. We need to go on to the next question. We have quite a
few in line waiting, so let's go on to the next one.

OPERATOR: Our next one comes from Bill Tomson. You may ask your question.

REPORTER: Hi. This is Bill Tomson with Dow Jones. I suppose this question is
for Dr. Petersen. But what would be the purpose of the inhumane handling of
the cattle? In other words, is there any possible other purpose for forcing
a fallen cow to their feet other than, say, bypassing the downer
prohibition? I mean is there absolutely anything that could be the reason
behind this except for that?

DR. PETERSEN: Well, I can't, you know, muse on people's thinking other than
to say it's not necessary in a plant that operates effectively, and it's
certainly not appropriate. And so perhaps they have some animals that they
thought they could get up to move. That's not the appropriate way to do
that. So I can't speculate on kind of what their thought process was. They
should have procedures in place that positions them so that that's not

MODERATOR: Before we go to the next question though, Eric Steiner wanted to
follow up on one of the earlier questions. Eric?

MR. ERIC STEINER: Thank you, Corry. As Mr. Sessions correctly noted before,
the Food Nutrition Service notifies the states, who then in turn notify
schools and other recipient agencies regarding the Westland Meat Company
products. When our first advisory went out, we let our state agencies and
schools know that they can identify the products that originate from this
company by either the company name or their establishment number. And those
are either/or or both are both on the products. And that's how those
products can be identified.

MODERATOR: Thanks. So we can go to the next question. Thank you.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Rick Weiss. You may ask
your question, and please state your company name.

REPORTER: Hi. Thank you. Rick Weiss, Washington Post. With regard to the
substantial period of compliance after the 2005 humane handling violations,
when you say there was a substantial period of compliance, were there any
audits or inspections looking at this between then and now? Or is it just
that this is the first thing that's come up since then?

DR. PETERSEN: Okay. Yes. There were both audits and inspections. As we
mentioned last week, we have ongoing daily activities where we verify that
various humane handling procedures are being adhered to, which my in-plant
inspectors do as I said every day. In this plant we were documenting that
roughly an hour, really more like an hour and a half every day. Moving
cattle, effective stunning of cattle, you know water in the pens, that's the
kind of thing they look for. Then in May of 2007 this past year, we had
another random audit, really actually by the same individual who did the one
in December of 2005. And her findings at that time were unremarkable.

The facility concerns we had, had been significantly corrected, and she
observed none of the similar behavior as far as overuse of electric prodding
of cattle and that kind of thing.

So that report was on balance, acceptable.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Jeanine Otto. You may ask
your question, and please state your company name.

REPORTER: Thank you. This is Jeanine Otto from Illinois AgriNews. Dr.
Petersen, in the last teleconference there was some question about why HSUS
went first to local police authorities, as they're claiming they did, and
waited so long to get this video into the hands of the USDA. Have they been
any more forthcoming about what that gap in time was or why they went first
to local authorities instead of coming directly to the USDA?

DR. PETERSEN: Well, I haven't, you know, personally queried them on it. You
know, I think we expressed our view on that last week. And now that we have
the information we've kind of moved forward. Perhaps that's a question you
might offer up to them.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Joe Ascenzi. You may ask
your question and please state your company name.

REPORTER: Yes. Joe Ascenzi with the Business Press, San Reno, California.
What are the maximum penalties they might be looking at, and how long is
this likely to take to resolve?

DR. PETERSEN: They are currently subject to a rather significant penalty,
which is the inability to operate, and so it's up to them as far as when
they want to put forward a response to the issues that we put before them.
No doubt they are carefully considering what we've outlined. And what the
typical process is: They identify the issues, they tell us how they are
corrected, and then usually there's some back and forth discussion that may
take a few days. And again, it kind of depends on the credibility of what
they put forward and the likelihood that they think they will have for
success, not just immediately, but success on an ongoing basis.

And so we're going to be looking rather carefully for that.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Erica Warner. You may ask
your question. Please state your company name.

REPORTER: This is Erica Warner with the Associated Press. A couple
questions: One is that the company has said that only two employees broke
the rules, and both have been fired. I'm wondering if the company has
formally presented that action or that conclusion to USDA, and is that part
of their plan? Or have you all responded to that or considered that in any

DR. PETERSEN: Well, they have not formally responded. And so I can't really
speculate. If it's their position that it's only two people, I would want to
understand how they came to that conclusion, because any facility has both
employees and supervisors and a program that's supposed to be understood by
all and implemented by all.

And so I haven't seen that, that that's their position. So I couldn't
speculate that that's their conclusion.

OPERATOR: Next question comes from Victoria Kim. You may ask your question,
and please state your company name.

REPORTER: Hello. This is Victoria Kim with the LA Times. I have two
questions. One, I wanted to ask whether you were looking at all into how
these activities went undetected by the USDA inspectors, and if you're
looking into that at all in your investigation. And second, if you're
looking into whether this kind of action is also at other slaughterhouses in
the country. Thanks.

DR. PETERSEN: Okay. Well, how it went undetected is certainly going to be
part of the investigation. And as I think we very briefly touched on last
week, that kind of information, if it comes to light, I would expect would
come to light through the interview process: Interviewing various folks and
then reconciling statements, as you would expect in any investigation.

So yes, we are interested: When did it occur? Did they have knowledge of
perhaps when my inspectors would be around? Obviously that's something we'd
be interested in. As I said, I know the inspectors were coming and going at
random times, so how is it that if this was occurring on an ongoing basis
they were not aware of it? So that's certainly part of the investigation.

Then your second question was? Oh, yeah. Again, I have, the second question:
Is this happening elsewhere? The preponderance of plants in the U.S., of
which plants that slaughter cattle - there's at least 600 of them in the
federal system - have effective programs. They track them on an ongoing
basis, they take corrective action should anything become awry, and they
make corrections over time. And so that's really the norm. And I have
inspectors in every single one of those plants that are quite attentive to
any of that kind of activity going on.

So no, I don't believe that this is evidence of something that's pervasive.
I think it's more symptomatic of a localized problem. Now that said,
obviously we, as with any investigation, want to learn things that we
perhaps can do better. And we've already got some ideas on how we want to
revise some of our procedures, frequency of procedures, data tracking kind
of inside baseball like that. But as the investigation facts kind of come to
light, we'll be going out with that kind of information to the workforce to
make sure any lessons learned here are aware of for everybody.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Carmen Corsi. Ask your question and
please state your company name.

REPORTER: Yes. My name is Carmen Corsi. And I'm a reporter with WSPA; that's
the CBS affiliate in the Greenville Spartanburg market of South Carolina. I
was just calling, and this alludes to the first question that was asked
again. I know that Mr. Steiner said that these agencies will notify the
different states, which will notify the schools, and then they are in charge
of notifying the people in that area. But I was wondering if there was any
sort of list that we could access that had it broken down of which states
were immediately affected by this, where that meat went, so we can ensure
that people are coming forward and saying, "Hey, we have some of this meat
but we have pulled it."

MR. ERIC STEINER: At this point, all of our states have been notified that
they need to suspend using for the time being all meat products derived from
the company. That's all 50 states, District of Columbia, and that's
everybody. I mean some of the products are given through the different
programs, including the National School Lunch Program, as mentioned before
on last week's call; also the Emergency Food Assistance Program and the Food
Distribution Program on Indian reservations.

So everyone has been contacted, and everyone should be diligent in
suspending the use of these products.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Robert Wilson. You may ask your
question, and please state your company name.

REPORTER: Robert Wilson with KSFY Television. We're the ABC affiliate in
Sioux Falls, South Dakota. You said off the top that you had found no
evidence that downer cattle had entered the food supply. Can you say you're
confident that that did not happen, or is that still a part of your ongoing

DR. PETERSEN: Well, I mean when we brought up this subject last week, of
course we had that before us with really no information either way. In the
last week I've obviously looked at a lot of information that's available to
us and information from at least some of the initial interviews as well as
records that I generate in the plant through our inspection activity,
records of activities we do on ante mortem, condemnations that we may do for
nonambulatory animals.

And so I think the statement is what I said to date, and I have better
information than I did last week. But I'm always looking for complete
information to the extent I can get it. So I have better information today.
I have no evidence that any nonambulatory animals enter the food supply.
That's better information than I had last week. But I still have additional
investigation that I'm going to do to make sure that every rock we can look
under is looked under before we can be in a position to make a final

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Steven Quevas (sp). Please ask your
question and please state your company name.

REPORTER: Hi. Steven Quivas from KPCC in Los Angeles, a National Public
Radio affiliate. Dr. Petersen, we know what the Humane Society say they saw,
but what specific deficiencies has the USDA identified in its current
investigation? And also what parts of the Humane Society investigation can
you confirm as being accurate?

DR. PETERSEN: Well, part of what we were looking at over the last week was,
you know, I had some, obviously, some video; and so how factual can I make
that video? Then we had some statements from the plant basically
acknowledging at least at some level that some of their employees were
engaged in the behaviors that they observed on the tape. So those two things
go together.

Then when I'm in the plant and I look at their layout: Kind of where some of
these things may have occurred, that helps me put more context to what I saw
in the video.

Then when we look at their program, things such as: Well what did they say
they were going to do as far as receiving animals, moving animals throughout
the facility? Did they have the right equipment to move injured animals
around the facility? What we saw in the tape certainly suggests not.

So, much of what I just said I then translate into the regulatory context.
And, we have regulatory prohibitions against things such as dragging live
animals. That's not acceptable. We have regulatory provisions against
overstunning aggressively driving animals. That's not acceptable.

And so we put some context to what we saw in the video, and then we split
that into a regulatory context, and that was really the basis for the

I would say, kind of circling back to one of the earlier calls and this is
kind of on the same theme: The suspension of the plant is an administrative
action that certainly we have the authority to execute. That is separate and
apart from what an OIG is and will be doing. And so I've taken the action I
think is appropriate, which is obviously suspending operations. OIG has
opened their case. They are going to certainly continue their investigation
and work with all the appropriate parties. Anything addition they may work
on or find on is going to be for them to determine.

The suspension is something that FSIS took under our existing regulatory

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Steve Kay. You may ask
your question, and please state your company name.

REPORTER: Steve Kay, Cattle Buyers Weekly. Dr. Petersen, have investigators
interviewed the two dismissed employees and their supervisor? And my second
question is, what kind of details are FSIS and USDA looking for in the
company's plans for corrective action?

DR. PETERSEN: Well, the first question, you know, who's been interviewed is
obviously part of the investigation, so I wouldn't be in a position to
comment on that. Details-that is for the plant to tell me. I have some kind
of general view of having had knowledge of other plants and programs that we
have found acceptable and of things that might be acceptable. But it's for
them first to figure out what happened, why did it happen, how was it
allowed to happen over at least some period of time, and then what does that
tell us about our program that we need to fix?

And obviously simply firing employees is not going to be - it may be part of
the story, but I'm certain they will come forward with more than just that.
And I would expect it to be comprehensive, meaning on the training side, the
ongoing supervision side, practices as far as moving animals around the
facility, ongoing correlation with people - perhaps ongoing surveillance of
what occurs in their pens. So that kind of overarching, comprehensive way to
address those various regulatory concerns I suggested earlier is certainly
the kind of thing we're going to be looking for.

OPERATOR: Thank you. The next question comes from Lisa Keefe. You may ask
your question, and please state your company name.

REPORTER: Yes, hi. This is Lisa Keefe with Meeting Place Magazine in
Chicago. As I understand it, the company even as it's not operating is going
through extensive, doing a lot of extensive work at the facility, presumably
to plan for ongoing operations in the future including perhaps the
installation of video cameras at locations to enhance the surveillance of
the employees and such. Do you have any knowledge of any of these actions?
Can you comment on them at all?

DR. PETERSEN: Well, some knowledge. Obviously there's been a lot of other
activity at the plant as I'm told. You know, this kind of circles back to
the earlier question. It's not for me to tell them what I want because they
will likely give me what I want. I want them to figure out what happened and
something that they can implement, something that they can embrace and
something that they can track over time. And so if video camera is something
they're considering or something they're putting in place, I haven't been
officially notified of that, so to me it would just be an interesting fact.

I think, likely if anything, I would guess they're trying to position
themselves to tell me what they have done. Generally if somebody tells me
what they're going to do, that's going to be a little less satisfactory than
somebody to tell me, "Here's what I've done, and you don't have to wait for
me to do something down the road." So it's conjecture, but perhaps that's
what they're trying to strive for.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Erica Warner. You may ask
your question and please state your company name.

REPORTER: Oh, hi. This is Erica Warner with AP. On the question of the
suspension of use of the product from Westland, just to be clear, are these
products going to be destroyed or is there a point in time when you
determined for sure that no downer cattle entered the food supply, that they
would be allowed to take these products out of the freezer and serve them up

MR. BILL SESSIONS: The products are going to remain on hold until such time
as we have information from the investigative process where we can make an
appropriate decision, and at that time when we have the facts in hand we
will then make a timely and appropriate decision relative to the disposition
of these products.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Kim Piersol (sp). You may
ask your question. Please state your company name.

REPORTER: Hi. Kim with the Riverside Press Enterprise. I had a quick
question, just trying to clearly understand what the investigative process
is involving the agencies. FSIS suspended operations. What's the next step
for FSIS? And does the entire investigation now go to OIG?

DR. PETERSEN: Well, the plant, as we've mentioned on this call, needs to
decide if and when they want to respond to the suspension. And so we simply
wait for that. I'm on no timeline. It's their timeline.

Anything that OIG is doing - decisions I'll make down the road regarding
their suspension. You never say never. But the suspension is really on a
separate track that's an administrative enforcement action. As I said on the
last call, we did about 12 humane handling suspensions last year. So it's
not common, but it's not as low as we want to see it.

Then OIG does have the lead, and we'll pursue other information no doubt in
concert with a variety of parties to pursue other information. And I'm
really not in a position to speak to what they're going to be interested in.

So, (about) the suspension: If the plant wants to respond, I'll assess the
response, and then we'll make a decision on whether they could operate based
on the facts we put before them in the letter of suspension. OIG will
continue to pursue any additional activities that they are doing.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Tanya Allen. You may ask
your question. One moment, please. We'll go on to the next.

REPORTER: Hi. Rick Weiss, Washington Post. Again, to try to clarify in the
OIG aspect of the investigation, I know you can't say much about it, but can
you make clear for us whether within the purview of that investigation is an
investigation into whether the USDA inspector who was doing the daily
inspections there was fulfilling his duties appropriately?

DR. PETERSEN: I just can't speculate on what OIG is going to be looking at.

REPORTER: Have you looked at that yourself and come to a conclusion yet?

DR. PETERSEN: Even if I had I wouldn't be in a position to articulate what
it is we found or didn't find regarding inspection personnel.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Tanya Allen. You may ask
your question and please give your company name.

REPORTER: This is Tanya Allen with AMIS Newsletter. First, there appear to
be some provisions for cost reimbursement for those in the commodity chain.
But it's unclear to me how these work. I guess my question is, what are
USDA's plans for covering costs incurred by schools, distributors,
manufacturers, etcetera, during this hold?

MR. BILL SESSIONS: To answer your question, we do have specific hold and
recall procedures that we will follow in this matter. Not to say exactly
what we will reimburse and won't reimburse and that sort of thing; it would
be speculative on my part. We really need the facts, and as soon as we have
the facts, either through the investigative process, again we'll take the
appropriate action at that time.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Victoria Kim. You may ask
your question.

REPORTER: Just following up on the question on whether you're looking at the
inspectors. I'm confused - so you will never give us the conclusion you've
reached on the USDA inspector's part? And why is that? And I was also
wondering if it is indeed found that these inspectors were aware of the
process and did not do anything about it, what are possible actions that
will be taken?

DR. PETERSEN: Well, just broadly, not in this case but of course anything
that occurs, of course not just in this agency but anywhere, we look at our
employees. And, did they have the right information? And if they did, were
they taking the appropriate action?

And so I do investigations all the time looking into employee conduct. And I
think we kind of touched on this last week; we put in place last week an
aggressive, multifaceted investigation. And anybody who knows, certainly,
me, knows that I'm interested in all the facts. And when we get the facts,
we take the appropriate action or we don't take an appropriate action, based
on the facts. And so we're interested in knowing everything about
everything. And certainly FSIS and AMS and FNS have their piece of it, and
OIG has started to focus on their piece of it.

So I can never say never what we may share down the road, but today we're
still in the middle of some of this. And so I'm not in a position to tell
you any actions we are taking or contemplating or haven't taken.

MODERATOR: Thank you. At this time unfortunately, that's going to have to
have been the last question. But thank you for joining, and call us at USDA
Office of Communications if you have any further questions. And that number
is 202-720-4623. Thank you.

Hallmark/Westland had been cited in the past for animal handling

By Lisa Keefe on 2/7/2008 for

The Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co. in Chino, Calif. had a record of lesser animal handling violations with the USDA dating back to 2005 and an animal rights organization had recorded the use of forklifts at the facility in 1993.

USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service spokeswoman Amanda Eamich confirmed a report in The Washington Post that the plant had citations dating from about 2005 for violations such as "too much electric prodding," but noted that these earlier citations were in a category of transgression that did not constitute "egregious violations."

FSIS suspended its inspection of the facility earlier this week "based on the establishment's clear violation of Federal Regulations and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act" and its "egregious violations" of humane handling regulations. (See USDA suspends inspection of Hallmark for humane violations on, February 6, 2008.)

USDA's Office of the Inspector General is investigating the allegations, and has the power to subpoena evidence and report its findings to the Justice Department to consider criminal prosecution, the Washington Post reported.

Meanwhile, Farm Sanctuary, based in Watkins Glen, N.Y., confirmed to that it filmed the use of forklifts on livestock at Hallmark in 1993. At the time, it was researching allegations of animal abuse under state animal cruelty statutes. Current statutes specifically addressing the slaughter of downer cattle had not yet been written.

February 1, 2008


Undercover video [WARNING: extremely graphic images] shows cows unable to walk being pushed and run over with a forklift at Hallmark.

Members of Congress are outraged at the shocking animal abuse and disregard for public health documented in The Humane Society of the United States' undercover investigation at Hallmark Meat Packing Co., of Chino, Calif.

Below are some of their statements and calls for action.


Senator Daniel Akaka's (D-Hawaii) statement on the safety of slaughter facilities [PDF]

Senator Barbara Boxer's (D-Calif.) press release, letter to USDA Secretary Ed Schafer and letter to Calif. Attorney General Jerry Brown

Senator Dick Durbin's (D-Ill.) press release, letter to USDA Secretary Ed Schafer and letter to Richard Raymond of the Food Safety Inspection Service

Senator Diane Feinstein's (D-Calif.) press release on the "appalling" Westland Meat Packing case

Senator Tom Harkin's (D-Iowa) press release on Westland Meat Packing allegations

House of Representatives

Congressman Gary Ackerman's (D-N.Y.) press release on the Hallmark investigation and letter to USDA Secretary Ed Schafer

Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) praises The HSUS's Hallmark cruelty investigation

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro's (D-Conn.) press release on tainted meat in the school



[Docket No. 03-025IFA] FSIS Prohibition of the Use of Specified Risk
Materials for Human Food and Requirement for the Disposition of
Non-Ambulatory Disabled Cattle

Terry S. Singeltary



Follow Ups:

Post a Followup

E-mail: (optional)


Optional Link URL:
Link Title:
Optional Image URL: