During a technical briefing updating the status of the investigation of cruelty charges at Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company, Dr. Ken Peterson, assistant administrator of USDA's Food Inspection Service, said they had found no evidence suggesting downer cattle had entered the food supply.
"We've looked at a lot of records, confirmed a lot of information and to date there is no information to substantiate that," Peterson says. "Never the less we will continue to pursue any information to make sure that remains the case."
USDA Food and Nutrition Service Associate Administrator Eric Steiner did announce that USDA had extended the administrative hold on Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing company products. The extension runs until Feb. 19.
Peterson says that the Office of the Inspector General has opened an investigation into the case. FSIS and the Agricultural Marketing Service will assist OIG with their investigation.
"The suspension of the plant is an administrative action separate and apart from what OIG is and will be doing," Peterson says. "I've taken the action I think is appropriate, which is obviously suspending operations. OIG has opened their case, they are certainly going to continue their investigation and work with all the appropriate parties."
If evidence of criminal conduct is found, OIG will work with the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney's Office to pursue the matter.
In response to questions of why USDA inspectors had not caught the abuses, Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer says the department is investigating it and considering changes to its current program.
"I'm confident that we are working in the right direction to make sure proper inspections procedures are in place," says Schafer. He also criticized the Humane Society of the United States, which uncovered the abuse at the plant, for letting the situation continue for months longer than it needed to and for publicly releasing the video rather than bringing it to the agency's attention.