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Report: SoCal slaughter plant abuse not systemic

WASHINGTON (AP)--The U.S. Department of Agriculture's inspector general said, Dec. 10, that there wasn't a systemic failure behind the cattle abuse that led to the nation's biggest beef recall last February.

But the IG also said in a report that better management controls are needed to prevent further incidents of the kind of abuse that happened at Southern California's Westland/Hallmark Meat Co.

Workers at the plant were recorded on undercover video abusing and prodding cattle to force them to slaughter. The scandal led the USDA to ban slaughter of all 'downer' cows that are too weak to stand.

The inspector general report highlighted what it called an "inherent vulnerability" in that the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service does not have continuous surveillance of all operating areas in a slaughterhouse at all times.

The installation of cameras in strategic locations around slaughterhouses is a reform that some lawmakers pushed for in the wake of the 143-million pound beef recall.

The report also pointed to a lack of resources and said management oversight of operations at slaughterhouses should be improved. Training of staff should be more uniform, the report said.

The USDA generally accepted recommendations the inspector general made, including to strengthen various management controls.

A criminal investigation by the inspector general into potential investigations of the Federal Meat Inspection Act is ongoing, so the report's findings were limited.

In a statement, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-IA, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the report showed that Food Safety and Inspection Service personnel were overtasked and more resources were needed.


Date: 1/9/09

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