Following the Hallmark/Westland recall of 143 million pounds of beef products earlier this year, Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer requested an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General. The results of that investigation have been made known. The report says that while problems are not systemic, there are vulnerabilities in the inspection system that can lead to situations like Hallmark/Westland where there are humane handling and inspection violations.
Vulnerabilities identified include the inability of the Food Safety and Inspection Service to effectively demonstrate that its verification of establishment oversight is adequate, that non-veterinarians have performed ante-mortem inspection without formal training or direct supervision, and the Public Health Veterinarian assigned to the plant took shortcuts in his inspection duties.
Senator Tom Harkin, Chairman of the Senate Ag Committee, says this report proves that personnel from the front-line supervisor to the public health veterinarian were over-tasked and understaffed. They could not keep up with all of the inspection procedures they were charged with carrying out. Harkin says if the Food Safety and Inspection Service does not assign a sufficient numbers of inspectors, supervisors and veterinarians and provide the training they require, we take a gamble with food safety and the humane treatment and slaughter of animals.
Problems are not confined to just Hallmark/Westland. The IG audited 10 so-called "cull" slaughter plants in the United States to determine how widespread inspection problems are at these plants. At five establishments, inspectors improperly allowed establishment employees to control the verification process of inspected animals going to slaughter.