Putting the School Beef Scare into PerspectiveFebruary 1st, 2008 by Steven Gardner
Posted by Chris Henry, South Kitsap reporter
Update 4/5/08: Here is a link to a statement sent by Westland Meats to schools districts. It indicates that the employees in the video who were filmed rousing downed cattle with hoses and fork lifts were dismissed.
Here is a link to the statement regarding the video from U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer.
Here’s a excerpt from Schafer’s statement, “While we are conducting our investigation, today, USDA has indefinitely suspended Westland Meat Company as a supplier to Federal food and nutrition programs. Westland Meat Company will not be permitted to produce or deliver any products currently under contract. Under the suspension, no further contracts will be awarded to Westland Meat Company. The suspension will remain in effect until all investigations are complete and appropriate action is taken by the Department. An administrative hold has been placed on all Westland Meat Products that are in, or destined for Federal food and nutrition programs.”
Original post Feb. 2
By now you’ve probably seen the horrific undercover video taken by the Humane Society of the United States at Hallmark Meats, a California slaughterhouse that is one source of beef for the National School Lunch Program. The slaughterhouse is now under investigation by the U.S.D.A., and Washington school districts have been advised by the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to put a hold on any meat that may have originated at Hallmark until the investigation is complete.
Kitsap and North Mason school districts are conducting thorough inventories of all their beef products to make sure no bad meat turns up on students’ trays.
A hold on potentially tainted beef is different from a recall,
explained Skip Skinner, supervisor of food distribution for OSPI.
The video shows cows unable to stand being prodded with a forklift
and sprayed with water in an apparent attempt to get them standing.
(You can see part of the video at
Clearly, the Humane Society video brings up two separate issues: Violation of Federal laws in effect for health reasons, and the humane treatment of animals. Federal law prohibits the slaughter of downed cows for human consumption because of concerns about potentially fatal illness caused by e coli, salmonella and mad cow disease. But if inspectors determine that meat from the downed cows is not in fact tainted, the already shipped products now on hold will be released as fit for consumption, Skinner said.
Todd Miller, food service supervisor for Bainbridge Island School District, said that while he doesn’t know the specifics of the problem with Hallmark and has not seen the video, he believes people shouldn’t get overly worried about tainted meat. Miller’s family raised cattle when he was growing up, and he is familiar with slaughterhouses. He said cows can go down for reasons other than being sick, including broken limbs, pinched nerves and sheer anxiety.
“All sorts of things can make an animal not want to get up,” said Miller, speaking in general terms. “In (reputable) slaughter plants, they try to do it as humanely as possible. They try to keep the stress down as much as possible, but ultimately, the reality is the animal is going to be put down.”
Miller, again with the qualifier that he has not seen the video, said he doesn’t feel squeamish about slaughtering that is done properly.
“I’ve seen it. I grew up around it. I’m not bothered by it,” he said. “A lot of people don’t equate what they’re eating to how they got it.”