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Abused cows cause largest beef recall { March 12 2008 }

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http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5gjgIDJ5Z2xZSLp6TUi-kRcCFXmPgD8VBSUR01

Slaughterhouse Exec Defends Himself
By ERICA WERNER
March 12, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) The head of the Southern California slaughterhouse at the center of the largest beef recall in U.S. history said Wednesday no unsafe beef was processed at his plant and a video showing ill cows being pushed with a forklift depicted animals headed for euthanasia not the food supply.

"While these cows should be treated humanely and they were not, these cows were not harvested and they did not enter the food supply," Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. President Steve Mendell said in written testimony to a House panel. "They were not slaughtered, ground or sold. They were euthanized and removed."

It was his first public comment since undercover video of apparent abuses of crippled cattle at his plant led to its shutdown and last month's recall of 143 million pounds of beef. Mendell was appearing under subpoena before the House Energy and Commerce investigative subcommittee. He was a no-show at a committee hearing last month.

Mendell contended that the cows shown unable to walk in the Humane Society of the United States video were not being sent to slaughter in violation of federal rules barring most "downer" cows from the food supply because they carry a higher risk of infection.

He said that the cows shown in the video being shocked and pushed with a forklift wouldn't have been able to make it up the chute to where the slaughter process begins. Instead they appear to be among the 10 to 15 cows that were euthanized at the slaughterhouse each day because they were non-ambulatory, he said.

Mendell noted that no illnesses have been reported from the recalled beef and the Agriculture Department has found no evidence of problems with it. Some 50 million pounds of the beef went to federal nutrition programs, mostly school lunches.

"I am not aware that there has ever before been a meat recall of this magnitude where there is no evidence of contaminated food and no evidence of any illness," he said.

Mendell said he's received death threats. He contended that his company has a long record of good safety procedures and was in the process of taking extensive corrective actions in response to the video when the Agriculture Department shut him down and called for a recall of product produced over the past two years.

"Our company is ruined. We cannot continue," Mendell said. Some 220 employees have lost or are about to lose their jobs, he said.

Two workers shown on the Humane Society video were fired and are facing animal cruelty charges from San Bernardino County prosecutors in an ongoing criminal investigation. Lawmakers have criticized Agriculture Department inspection procedures and called for reform.

"I also want to emphasize that it would be financial suicide for a company to harvest or process a cow that it believes to be sick," Mendell said. "The company does not pay suppliers for the cost of a cow deemed unfit for human consumption and there is therefore no financial incentive to bypass the regulations.

"A single sick cow that enters production also has the capacity to ruin an entire day's worth of production," he said.

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