I signed an online petition regarding the downer cow fiasco earlier this year. Yesterday I received a response from the USDA. Do I believe the government is really doing something to prevent this situation from happening in the future? No. I'm not a vegetarian and I never will be, but I think it's a good time to put tofu in heavy rotation in the National School Lunch Program.
Dear Sir/Madam: (because "Kathy" is obviously a unisex-type name)
Thank you for your communication regarding inhumane handling of cattle at Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been asked to provide you with a response, and we appreciate the opportunity to update you on how the Agency is responding to the situation. I want to assure you that USDA and FSIS are taking these allegations very seriously. FSIS and the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) are working with the USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) as they conduct an investigation into this matter. The USDA investigation is ongoing, and additional actions will be taken as warranted.
FSIS is the public health regulatory agency in USDA responsible for ensuring that meat, poultry, and processed egg products are safe, wholesome, and accurately labeled. FSIS enforces the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act, and the Egg Products Inspection Act, which require Federal inspection and regulation of meat, poultry, and processed egg products prepared for distribution in commerce for use as human food. FSIS also enforces the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which requires that all livestock at federally inspected establishments be handled and slaughtered in a humane way.
We place a very high priority on ensuring that animals are treated humanely at all times. We have taken prompt actions. A summary of those actions is listed below.
January 30, 2008 USDA indefinitely suspended Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company as a supplier to Federal nutrition assistance programs. In addition, an administrative hold was placed on all Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company products that were in or destined for Federal food and nutrition programs.
February 1, 2008 Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company voluntarily stopped slaughter operations.
February 4, 2008 As a result of FSIS findings, FSIS issued Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company a Notice of Suspension because the establishment failed to maintain and implement controls to prevent the inhumane handling and slaughter of animals at the facility as required by FSIS regulations and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. The suspension will remain in effect and the establishment will be unable to operate until written corrective actions are submitted and verified by FSIS to ensure that animals at the facility are handled and slaughtered humanely.
February 17, 2008 Based on evidence obtained from the ongoing investigation, FSIS announced that Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company had voluntarily recalled raw and frozen beef products produced since February 1, 2006, due to non-compliance with FSIS regulations. The recall has been designated a Class II because these products represent a low risk to human health. The Federal government has an interlocking system of controls established to protect the food supply. Immediately following the recall announcement, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) issued instructions for the recall and destruction of the Hallmark/Westland beef placed on hold since January 30, 2008, and for Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company beef dating back to February 1, 2006. Products affected by the recall are no longer being served in schools. To minimize disruption to school food service operations, USDA is working closely with States to quickly provide replacement commodity product from validated sources or credit their commodity entitlement accounts. For information or questions regarding the purchase of products for Federal food and nutrition programs, you may wish to visit the AMS Web site at http://www.ams.usda.gov/. For information or questions regarding the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), including contact information for the State agency that administers the NSLP in your State, you may wish to visit the FNS Web site at http://www.fns.usda.gov/fns/default.htm.
February 28, 2008 FSIS announced the interim actions that the Agency is taking to verify and thoroughly analyze humane handling activities in all federally inspected establishments pending the conclusion of the investigation. Details of the interim activities can be found at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/News_&_Events/NR_022908_01/index.asp.
March 18, 2008 FSIS granted the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company’s request for a voluntary withdrawal of inspection.
Please visit the FSIS Web site at http://www.fsis.usda.gov for updates as the investigation progresses.
Kenneth E. Petersen, D.V.M., M.P.H.
Office of Field Operations