Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Audit Findings

Westland/Hallmark an isolated event, but better federal oversight needed: OIG
By Tom Johnston on 12/10/2008

USDA's Office of the Inspector General concluded after an audit of pre-slaughter operations at cull cow facilities stemming from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. recall in February that the violations that occurred at the Chino, Calif.-based slaughterhouse were isolated, but oversight of antemortem inspection processes needs to be improved.

OIG's findings derive from an audit of 10 of the nation's top 49 cull cow slaughter facilities from March to June 2008 and past Food Safety and Inspection Service inspections at Westland/Hallmark. The audit sought to determine whether the events that occurred at Westland/Hallmark were isolated or systemic.

OIG said the actions by employees at Westland/Hallmark — which included ramming non-ambulatory cows with a forklift to force them upright in order to pass antemortem inspection before slaughter — were deliberate efforts to circumvent required inspections. Furthermore, in-plant FSIS staff did not comply with required inspection procedures, and supervisors did not detect and/or prevent these incidents.

Among the infractions, no in-plant inspectors at Westland/Hallmark wrote noncompliance records (NRs) despite finding violations between December 2004 and February 2008, and, in some cases, inspectors shifted responsibilities to the company's employees.

'Inherent vulnerability'

OIG said it did not find systemic inhumane handling incidents at the 10 other establishments it audited, but it determined "an inherent vulnerability" that such incidents could occur at these facilities due to insufficient surveillance capabilities of FSIS and because these facilities slaughter animals that generally are in weak physical condition, increasing the chances for abuses as workers try to move the animals to slaughter.

"Although we found varying degrees of noncompliance and/or inconsistent implementation of required inspection procedures by FSIS inspectors in the other cull establishments reviewed during the audit, nothing came to our attention to indicate that unsuitable animals were passed for slaughter at these establishments. In addition, there was no single underlying reason why the noncompliances occurred," OIG states in its report.

"Therefore, we concluded that the events that occurred at Hallmark were not a systemic failure of the inspection processes/system as designed by FSIS. However, we did determine that management controls designed to provide oversight of the inspection processes, as well as organizational controls to demonstrate the sufficiency and competency of its personnel resources, can be strengthened to minimize the chance that events such as those at Hallmark could happen in the future."

In addition to the findings, OIG issued 25 recommendations along with FSIS's responses.

To view the audit, click here.

Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer asked OIG to conduct USDA's criminal investigation into potential violations of the Federal Meat Inspection Act. The investigation is ongoing, and a report is forthcoming. Link

Even though this thorough audit of our meat packing system concluded that Hallmark/Westland was an isolated event, this report will be dragged through the mud by HSUS and PETA. However, it concurs with our message that this isn’t a systemic problem. Even one isolated event is one too many though, and we all need to do our part to make sure they don’t happen again.

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