The largest beef recall in history – 143 million lbs. – was issued Sunday by Westland-Hallmark Meat Co., of Chino, Calif., after the Humane Society of the United States released an undercover videotape that showed workers kicking sick cows and using forklifts to force them to walk.
Such symptoms in “downer cows” could be indications of bovine spongioform encephalitis, or “mad cow disease.”
Officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture told The New York Times that there was little risk from the meat because most of it already has been eaten, and the animals passed pre-slaughter inspection. But that is not likely to cut much ice with the Humane Society, which says the USDA has systematically understaffed and underinspected slaughterhouses and meat packing houses for years. Symptoms of mad cow disease may not become manifest until years after a human has eaten contaminated meat.
The recall came after a year in which meat has repeatedly been recalled for e. coli contamination: 21 recalls in 2007, compared to 8 in 2006 and 5 in 2005, the Times reported.
The USDA reported that Westland-Hallmark failed to report instances of cows being unable to walk after they passed inspection, so the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service ordered the meat to be recalled. Westland-Hallmark is recalling all the raw and frozen beef it produced since Feb. 1, 2006. Thirty-seven million lbs. went into school lunches and other federal nutrition programs, federal officials said.