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State urges schools ban suspect beef

L.A. Unified will offer substitute items after discovering that a supplier butchered weak and ill cattle.

February 01, 2008|Ashraf Khalil | Times Staff Writer

The California Department of Education on Thursday urged school districts throughout the state to stop serving all but a few beef products after allegations that a Chino-based meat supplier butchered and distributed weak or ill cattle.

In an alert issued Thursday afternoon, the California Department of Education's Nutrition Services Division advised agencies not to use beef products from Westland Meat Co. -- a National School Lunch Program supplier -- until further notice.

"In addition, we recommend that agencies not use any processed end-products containing beef pending further instructions," the alert said. Such beef products would include uncooked ground beef used in hamburgers, meatballs and "teriyaki dippers," officials said.

The recommendation, however, does not include items such as breakfast burritos that are cooked and packaged before being delivered to schools.

On Thursday, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Unified School District said cafeterias will temporarily remove most beef products from their menus as a precaution.

The actions follow news that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating Westland after the release of a video showing slaughterhouse workers using forklifts and water hoses to move or rouse weak and sick cows before slaughter.

The video was recorded by the Humane Society of the United States at Hallmark Meat Packing. Meat processed there is distributed by Westland Meat Co.

Federal and California laws prohibit the slaughter of "downer" cattle -- those that cannot stand or walk -- for human food supply to prevent animal cruelty and the consumption of meat from unhealthy animals.

The meatpacking company issued a statement Wednesday saying that it had taken immediate action to terminate two employees recorded in the video and had suspended their supervisor.

Susan Cox, a spokeswoman for L.A. Unified, said new items would be substituted for beef beginning today. "They just want to be safe," she said.

Items such as meatballs and hamburger patties will be temporarily eliminated until the district can conduct an inventory on how much of its beef originates from Westlake.

"We want to make sure that we're protecting the health of our young children," said Dennis Barrett, the district's director of food services. "It's certainly not going to cripple us. There will still be good nutritious meals every day."

State education officials said they reacted as soon as they heard of the USDA investigation.

"I am very saddened to hear about the allegations of animal abuse at Westland," California Supt. of Public Education Jack O'Connell said in a statement. "I want to assure every parent . . . that the California Department of Education will not tolerate anything that threatens the safety of food given to their children."

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ashraf.khalil@latimes.com

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