LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett County Public Schools and Barrow County Schools have shelved products containing possibly tainted beef processed at a California slaughterhouse that has been accused of mistreating nonambulatory disabled cattle.
The questionable meat has not been served by either school district since Jan. 30, the day the U.S. Department of Agriculture began investigating reports that plant employees were attempting to force animals that have a higher risk of carrying diseases to walk to slaughter.
Gwinnett County Public Schools has put away 79 cases of taco filling and 174 cases of rotini with meat sauce that contain beef processed by the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company, said Jorge Quintana, a school district spokesman. The district had served some of the products before the allegations arose, he said.
"Keep in mind that at the time, there was no reason not to serve it," Quintana said. "It's really important for parents to know the USDA has not said the beef is contaminated or linked to any kind of disease."
Once the school district received notification to stop serving the beef, all cafeterias were alerted within 30 minutes to put the items aside, Quintana said.
Meanwhile, Barrow County Schools have placed four cases of hamburger patties on hold, said Roy Morgan, the assistant superintendent for district services. None of the shipment had been served, he said.
"If we don't get the authorization to say it's OK to use, we're not going to use it," Morgan said. "It will remain on hold until we get clearance or until we're told to destroy it."
Both school districts continue to serve beef that is processed at other plants.
Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company voluntarily stopped operations Feb. 1. The slaughterhouse processed beef that was used by at least 28 school districts in Georgia and 36 states.
The USDA also indefinitely suspended the Westland Meat Packing Company's eligibility to participate in federal food and nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch Program.
"I am deeply concerned about the allegations made regarding inhumane handling of nonambulatory disabled cattle in a federally inspected slaughter establishment," Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said in a Jan. 30 statement. "We are confident in our inspection system and the food safety regulations that ensure the safety and wholesomeness of the food supply. Among the federal safeguards in place, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service prohibits nonambulatory disabled cattle and cattle tissue identified as specified risk materials for use in human food."
The USDA began its investigation after the Humane Society of the United States said its undercover investigation of the slaughterhouse revealed mistreatment of "downed" cows, which are too sick or injured to walk. In a video, plant workers are seen using methods described as torture to try to force the animals to walk to slaughter.
"The practice of slaughtering downed cows is especially troubling now that the link between downed cattle and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease, has been firmly established," a Humane Society news release states. "Of the 15 known cases of BSE-infected animals discovered in North America, at least 12 involved downed animals."
The Humane Society is urging Congress to ban the slaughtering of any downed animals for human consumption. The current policy allows the slaughter of downed animals after they pass USDA inspection.
SideBar: Where it went
The following is a list of school systems that have been ordered by the Georgia Department of Education to put away products that contain potentially tainted meat from Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co., a California slaughterhouse that is under investigation following allegations that employees were mistreating cows.
Source: Georgia Department of Education