School Lunch Suppliers Settle Cow-Abuse Claims

     (CN) – Former suppliers of beef to the National School Lunch Program will pay millions to settle allegations of inhumane cattle handling, federal officials said Wednesday.
     The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) had initiated one of the underlying lawsuits after an investigator videotaped alleged inhumane cattle handling and improper downer cattle inspection practices at the Chino, Calif.-based slaughterhouse and meat-processing facility of Westland Meat and Hallmark Meat Packing.
     Downer is a term used to describe livestock that is nonambulatory disabled.
     Further investigation revealed that a defendant called Cattleman’s Choice, based in Commerce, Calif., was ineligible to process beef because it was owned by a convicted felon, the now-late Aaron “Arnie” Magidow.
     Westland Meat, based in Corona Del Mar, Calif., has agreed to a $155 million consent judgment. It and owner Steve Mendell will also pay $240,000.
     Another Corona Del Mar company, M&M Management, and Cattleman’s Choice, meanwhile will pay approximately $2.45 million.
     Magidow’s estate and surviving spouse, who is not alleged to have engaged in any wrongdoing, are also liable for that settlement.
     “In October 2012, defendants Donald R. Hallmark and Donald W. Hallmark settled allegations for $304,130,” according to a statement from the Justice Department.
     The Justice Department said all ground beef containing the defendants’ products was recalled as of Feb. 16, 2008, and the defendants no longer supply beef to the National School Lunch Program.
     Inhumane handling of cattle by suppliers of the National School Lunch is prohibited under U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations, the Justice Department said. Such regulations also “require the proper inspection and disposition of downer cattle and require suppliers to identify convicted felons who are responsibly connected to the suppliers’ operations,” it added.
     The USDA-administered National School Lunch Program “is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child-care institutions,” according to a Justice Department statement. “The program provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day.”
     Officials touted the recovery Wednesday as “one of the largest civil settlements” in the history of the USDA’s Office of Inspector General.
     The announcement follows approval of the last of these settlements by a California probate court.
     HSUS will receive approximately $600,000 from the settlement under whistle-blower provisions of the False Claims Act.

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