USDA declares major beef recall

February 18, 2008 6:32:33 PM PST
The U.S. Department of Agriculture today had to recall 143 million pounds of beef that came from a California slaughterhouse, after an undercover video surfaced about the treatment of sick animals.

It all stems from accusations of cattle abuse at a Southern California slaughterhouse -- a story the ABC7NEWS I-Team broke three weeks ago.

We're learning more about which fast food restaurants, stores and schools bought the recalled beef and what they're doing to make sure the food they sell is safe.

The expanded recall of beef from a Southern California plant now raises the possibility you may have already eaten it, or it's being taken out of stores or restaurants that you patronize.

Suddenly, Americans are growing suspicious about the burgers they eat.

"I guess I'll stop eating fast food for awhile. I don't know," said Pleasanton resident Linda Xie.

The federal recall now includes beef that was sold to restaurants and markets.

Costco, for example, says it's a customer of Hallmark Westland, the slaughterhouse in Chino where the recalled meat was processed.

Costco says it has pulled suspected meat products.

In-N-Out Burger says it no longer buys from Hallmark Westland.

In-N-Out's president says: "We are confident that every hamburger we serve, is completely safe and wholesome."

An undercover Humane Society video shot at the Southern California meat plant documented how cattle too sick to stand on their own got into the food chain. This has raised questions about federal inspection programs.

This fast food customer was asked if he has confidence in inspections.

"No. We wouldn't have all the issues we have if they did," said Alameda resident Tom Abbott.

The California Cattlemen's Association believes this is an isolated case.

"That's where the focus really needs to be is on this one plant and on these people that allowed any part of the food safety chain to be broken," said Matt Byrne from the California Cattlemen's Association.

The Humane Society disagrees.

"We can't believe that this is the only place that's doing these terrible things to animals when we selected this plant at random with more than 1,000 other cattle slaughterhouses in the country," said Humane Society of America President Wayne Pacelle.

The USDA says the chances of people getting ill are remote. Still, it ordered beef to be recalled two weeks ago from school lunch programs.

Vallejo school officials complain they're still in the dark about where their meat originated. An Oakland school spokesman hopes this wider recall will prompt action.

"The food industry and the American people as a whole have to grapple with and force these companies to be accountable. It's not that the rules aren't in place, but we have to urge our legislators to enforce the existing regulations," said Troy Flint from the Oakland Unified School District.

Legislators in Sacramento and Washington have called for hearings into meat inspection.

Slaughtering sick cows can lead to human illness from E. coli bacteria, salmonella and mad cow disease.