Thursday, April 17, 2008



What GAO Found


Public Reporting on Violations Can Identify Enforcement Challenges and Enhance Transparency

In January 2004, GAO reported that incomplete and inconsistent inspection records made it difficult to determine the frequency and scope of HMSA violations, inspectors did not always document violations of the act, and they did not consistently document the scope and severity of each incident. GAO also reported that enforcement actions to address noncompliance with the act were inconsistent, and that USDA was not using consistent criteria to determine when to suspend plant operations in cases of serious or repeated violations. The Congress has urged USDA to report annually on trends in compliance with humane slaughter methods. Such public reporting can enhance transparency, but USDA’s most recent report was in March 2003 and relied on incomplete data. For example, that report said very few infractions were for inhumane treatment, but GAO found that at least one-fourth of the infractions were for ineffective stunning which fails to meet humane standards. USDA has taken actions to address the recommendations GAO made in 2004 about oversight of HMSA. However, GAO has not evaluated the effectiveness of these actions. USDA faces resource challenges that may make it difficult for it to enforce HMSA and ensure the safety of the food supply. Although USDA’s budget for food safety-related activities has increased since 1988, staffing for these activities has declined from its highest level in 1995. Agency officials noted the overall decline is due, in part, to consolidation in the meat industry, resulting in fewer facilities. In 2004, GAO found that USDA lacked detailed information on how much time its inspectors spend on humane handling and slaughter activities, making it difficult to determine if the number of inspectors is adequate. USDA has taken actions to address most of GAO’s recommendationsfor assessing its resource needs for HMSA, but GAO has not evaluated these actions. Although not directly related to HMSA activities, the quantity of meat and poultry inspected and passed by USDA has grown, and the quantity of meat and poultry recalled has increased. USDA has oversight responsibility for ensuring the safety of meat, poultry, and processed eggs. For example, federal regulations prohibit companies from processing and selling meat from disabled cows—which have a higher probability of being infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy—without explicit USDA inspector approval. However, USDA is only 1 of 15 agencies that collectively administer at least 30 laws related to food safety. This fragmentation is the key reason GAO added the federal oversight of food safety to its High-Risk Series in 2007 and called for a governmentwide reexamination of the food safety system. GAO has reported on problems with this system—including inconsistent oversight, ineffective coordination, and inefficient use of resources. Going forward, as GAO has recommended, a governmentwide, results-oriented performance plan and a reconvened President’s Council on Food Safety could build a sustained focus on the safety of the nation’s food supply.

Note: Data for 2008 are estimated. Although the number of recalls has declined in recent years, the quantity of meat and poultry recalled has increased sharply. Meat and poultry product recalls declined from 125 in 2002 to 58 in 2007. However, 2 of the 6 biggest meat recalls in U.S. history have occurred in the past 6 months. In October 2007, Topps Meat Company LLC announced the recall of 22 million pounds of ground beef used for frozen hamburgers due to E. coli contamination. At the time, the Topps recall was the fifth largest in U.S. history. The E. coli-contaminated meat sickened at least 32 people in eight states. On February 17, 2008, Westland/Hallmark Meat Company announced the recall of more than 143 million pounds of beef, the largest recall in U.S. history. The quantity of meat and poultry recalled has increased from 5 million pounds in 1994, the first year for which data were readily available, to 145 million in just the first quarter of March 2008.

see full text 18 pages ;


To: Majority Members of the Domestic Policy Subcommittee

From: Majority Staff Domestic Policy Subcommittee

Date: April 15, 2008

Re: Severe gaps in USDA oversiqht of WestlandlHallmark plant

In press briefings following the public release of video documenting animal handling abuses at the Westland/Hallmark slaughterhouse in Chino, California, USDA officials have repeatedly affirmed that the incidents at V/estland/Hallmark represented an aberration in the meat industry.1

Prior to the public release of undercover video, however, USDA had judged
Westland/Hallmark's practices to be in compliance with federal laws. In its 2007 audit, USDA noted no infractions and gave Westland/Hallmark a faultless report.2 The USDA audit is attached.

USDA audit findings are at odds with the documented instances of animal cruelty and food safety violations. Following public release of the video evidence, USDA oversaw the largest voluntary beef recall in U.S. history.

In an interview with Subcommittee staff3 the undercover investigator who documented the abuses at Westland/Hallmark revealed instances of collusion by Westland/Hallmark plant management to violate animal handling and food safety laws and to conceal plant practices from USDA auditors. This undercover investigator also recounted the virtual absence of USDA inspectors in the plant, and the inability of USDA inspectors at the Westland/Hallmark to monitor the large plant.

Collusion by Management to evade law

When he began working at Westland/Hallmark, the undercover investigator asserted that he did not receive any formal training. Instead, a plant manager gave him an employee handbook and an informal run through the materials which lasted "about five minutes." On the other hand, the USDA audit notes that "per establishment managers, all employees who handle livestock get humane training at least monthly."4 The Audit goes on to say that employees must sign off on attendance sheets to veriffy their training as well as issues covered in their training.

The investigator described an incident, not depicted in the video, where an animal with untrimmed horns could not get through a chute. Rather than stop operations to pull the animal out and trim its horns, employees electrically stunned the animal in its anus repeatedly to force it to move. The manager present encouraged this practice despite the animal's bellows and obvious discomfort. The investigator noted that the electric prods were used systematically rather than exceptionally on animals while they were on the chute. Despite this practice, the USDA Audit notes that "per establishment managers, a number of changes have been made to address the noncompliance and concerns [regarding excessive prodding] identified during the previous verification visit."5

The investigator also reported that on the eve before a November 13th and 14th audit,
management had a meeting with the employees and explained that they should not engage in inhumane animal handling practices in front of the inspectors.

The investigator also reported that plant managers would routinely fail to inform the USDA inspector if local farmers brought cattle to be slaughtered throughout the day i.e., after the conclusion of the 6:30 a.m. inspection and the 12:30 p.m. inspection. The plant manager would not inform the inspector and the inspector, who remained in his office, was never aware of the practice.

USDA ├Čnvisibility

The undercover investigator explained that employees did not fear getting caught committing animal handling abuses because the inspector never showed up unannounced. The investigator described how one employee concealed an electric prodder that he used on the animals even while the inspector was present.

The investigator reported that the USDA inspector was rarely present. The investigator commented that "to the USDA inspector, the cattle was invisible unless they were about to be slaughtered."

The investigator explained that had the inspector's offlrce had windows and been located next to the loading pen, "that alone would help curb bad behavior." .......


this is just another one of the federal gov. broken records they play from time to time. the GAO AND OIG is helpless in oversight of USDA et al. AS you can see from the reports over the past 8 years. same BSe over and over again, and i see no hope with this problem with the new administration coming in, regardless who wins. BIG AG has a stranglehold on the white house. ...TSS


Thursday, March 06, 2008 12:15 PM
House committee subpoenas Hallmark/Westland CEO - i call for an investigation of the investigators



MAD COW DISEASE terminology UK c-BSE (typical), atypical BSE H or L, and or
Italian L-BASE



1 comment:

Miranda said...

This is just another case of the USDA dropping the ball. Yesterday afternoon I gave the USDA a call to ask some questions about the test results on the beef from this recall and was told that there were no results to report. Two kind women from the USDA explained to me that although they admit that the recall was put out after most of the beef had been eaten the labeling of "unfit for human consumption" simply "removed the need for further testing, because people shouldn't be eating it anyway."

It took quite some time to get any answers at all, and the telling of my life story, since they wanted to know who I was and where I was from, etc. before talking to me and once I got the to start talking, they tap danced around every point that I made and continued to tell me that there was no need to test the beef since people weren't supposed to eat it anyway. And the usual fall back statement that it "just doesn't happen here in the US." Sound familiar to any of you in the UK??

I asked that since they admit that the people had already eaten it, why does that not elevate the need for testing so that we know if there were a potential outbreak on the horizon. I then also mentioned the fact that these people were doing this for two years and that if even one infected cow went into the machines that they were tainted forever and that if Westland/Hallmark tried to resume operations, wouldn't we want to know that all of those downers were safe so they could move their plant to a safe location and purchase uninfected equipment before being allowed to produce meat again if need be?? Parents across the country whose children eat meals from the School Lunch Program should be outraged and calling their School Boards, PTA, ocal media, and elected officials to find out many things, but most importantly why the USDA is allowed to commit these unbelievable acts of irresponsibility with the public safety and the safety of the children in this country. It is their job to protect us from this and they are failing. When I asked if they just didn't want to know, I was told that my concerns had been noted and she bid me good day. Please call the USDA and ask questions, call your elected officials and demand that something be done and more cows be tested. This must stop before one more person becomes infected!