Failures at Westland/Hallmark Admitted by Company President

Audits of animal handling were scheduled, not random.

During a House oversight subcommittee hearing Wednesday, the president of Westland/Hallmark Meat Co., Steve Mendell, was unable to defend his company from charges that non-ambulatory cattle had been sent to slaughter at his plant in violation of USDA food safety regulations.

House oversight and investigations subcommittee chairman, Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., opened the hearing with a video from the Humane Society of the United States. That video showed inhumane treatment of animals at Westland, including what appeared to be plant workers moving a cow they had gotten up into the kill box – without being re-inspected as required by a USDA food safety veterinarian. A second video at the hearing showed a similar scene with a second animal. Mendell testified he had not seen the videos prior to the hearing – even though it was quickly pointed out they had been online "for weeks."

When asked if his company had ever "illegally slaughtered, processed, or sold, a downer cow? He replied "I didn't think we had," Mendell replied slowly. Testifying under oath, Mendell said the two cows shown in the videos constituted, "a regulatory violation, for sure. It was inhumane treatment, for sure."

As part of his written testimony, Mendell said the company passed 17 "outside audits and 12 additional internal audits" in 2007. He presented audits that vouched for proper animal handling at the plant. One of those from Silliker, Inc. on Nov. 21, 2007 gave the company a total score of 96.4% on written criteria on animal handling and welfare. Total score was 106 out of a possible 110 points. Under committee questioning Mendell testified the Silliker audit was scheduled with the plant and not conducted at random.

The HSUS undercover investigation, which lasted about six weeks, began on Oct. 6. Mendell named Sean Thomas as the undercover investigator who had worked at the plant as an employee. He presented documents he said were signed by Thomas, showing Thomas had undergone the company's required animal handling training.

To view a video webcast of Wednesday's hearing, click HERE.

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