Meatpacker may close its doors; truckers may not be paid

| 2/26/2008

The meatpacking company involved in the largest meat recall ever may have to close its doors following the news that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will try and seek a “warranty” action against it to try to recover some of the costs associated with the massive recall.

The news that Hallmark/Westland may close could prove financially devastating for truckers who may not be paid for hauling cattle to the California slaughterhouse or transporting the finished meat products across the country.

Hallmark/Westland has been closed down since Feb. 17 when the USDA announced it was recalling more than 143 million pounds of meat based on new evidence that meat from at least one “downer” cow, which had been deemed too weak or lame, made it into the food supply chain.

In a USDA teleconference with reporters on Thursday, Feb. 21, Bill Sessions, associate deputy administrator for livestock and feed programs with the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, said the agency would “take a warranty action against Westland to try and recover some of these costs” associated with the massive beef recall.

“USDA will pursue every avenue available to us to reimburse the states for the cost of replacing the products that have to be destroyed, as well as the transportation of the product to the disposal sites, disposal fees and that sort of thing,” Sessions said.

Hallmark/Westland’s general manager, Anthony Magidow, told The Wall Street Journal on Saturday, Feb. 23, that he saw no way the company could reopen.

“If the USDA wants payment back, we’re dead meat,” Magidow told the Journal. “We’re done.”

At least 50.3 million pounds of the recalled meat went to federal nutrition programs, including school lunch programs across the country. Of that amount, the USDA confirmed that 19.6 million pounds of the recalled meat has already been consumed, according to Eric Steiner, associate administrator for Special Nutrition Programs for the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.

“We know that 15.2 million pounds are currently on hold. And we know that 15.5 million pounds are ‘actively being traced,’ ” Steiner said at a Feb. 21 press teleconference. “And these numbers will be updated as states are able to ascertain the location of the remainder of these products.”

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s final rulemaking issued in July 2007 prohibits “the use of downer cattle from entering the food supply chain.”

Ron Vogel, associate deputy administrator for Special Nutrition Programs, USDA Food and Nutrition Service, told Land Line on Thursday, Feb. 21, there is a plan to recover and destroy the remaining recalled product, but he didn’t go into specifics as to exactly what the plan entails.

“Yes, we do have a plan to recover and destroy this product in accordance with FSIS requirements,” Vogel said. “None of that product has been destroyed yet, but we will require documentation from state agencies and schools that the product has been in fact destroyed in accordance with FSIS requirements.”

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer