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Meat Company Executive Faces Congress

posted on March 14, 2008


Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. Last month's recall of a record 143 million pounds of meat processed at a California plant operated by the Hallmark/Westland Meat Company took center stage in Washington this week.

The recall was triggered when the Humane Society of the United States released undercover video showing the abuse of non-ambulatory cattle. Technically, these so called "downer" animals may enter the human food chain, but only if they pass an additional inspection by a USDA veterinarian.

This week, after being subpoenaed to testify to a House Investigation subcommittee, the president of the packing plant in question acknowledged that cattle were slaughtered illegally and conceded that meat from the animals entered the human food chain.

Steve Mendell, President Hallmark/Westland Meat Company: "Our company is ruined and we cannot continue. Approximately 220 of our employees have lost their jobs."

"The conduct appearing in the video is not the company I know."

Steve Mendell, President of the Hallmark Westland Meat Company, addressed a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee this week after skipping a previous hearing in February. Mendell's company was the source of a Humane Society investigation that led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history.

Prior to Wednesday's hearing, Mendell claimed that no "downer" cows were actually processed for food at his plant. Committee chairman Bart Stupak promptly directed Mendell's attention towards video monitors. A section of the video presentation shows a pair of "downer" cows entering the company's so-called "knock box" for slaughter.

Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Michigan: "Has your company ever illegally slaughtered, processed, or sold a downer cow?"

Steve Mendell: "I didn't think we had sir."

Bart Stupak, D-Michigan: "Is it logical to assume at least two "downer" cows were processed at your facility?"

Steve Mendell, President Hallmark/Westland Meat Company: "That would be logical, yes sir."

Stupak: "These videos have been online, why haven't you seen these?

Mendell: "I was in crisis mode and was busy dealing with my family and talking to USDA."

Stupak: "I find it amazing that you haven't seen it."

Mendell claims to have installed new security cameras immediately after the Humane Society investigation but concedes his company's training program did not prevent abuse of "downer" cows.

Mendell, who claims to have received personal death threats since the Humane Society investigation, says USDA officials erred in ordering the largest meat recall in history.

Mendell: "I think, in my humble opinion, that USDA could have contacted Alameda, our local area office, talked to the veterinarian in charge, talked to my area supervisor and thought about this a little bit before the recall."

USDA's Undersecretary of Food Safety strongly defended the federal government's unprecedented beef recall.

Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Michigan: "Would USDA have discovered this information without the Humane Society investigation?

Richard Raymond, USDA Undersecretary of Food Safety: "I wish I could say we would but clearly this was going on without our knowledge."

"We saw the video and that really authenticated the interviews we had already done."

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Illinois: "Do we have any evidence that shows the animals entered the food chain?

Raymond: "We think it's reasonable to assume…"

Shimkus: "But we don't know that….you're making assumptions."

Raymond: "This product entered the food chain in violation of our regulations."

The Humane Society responded to the House testimony of Steve Mendell and government officials with this release:

Mr. Mendell said he was unaware of the daily abuses that happened on the grounds of the single slaughter plant he owned. Either he is willfully misrepresenting his knowledge, or he was an incompetent manager of the plant he owned.


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