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Lawmakers blast USDA for food inspection lapses
Key Excerpts from Article on Website of San Francisco Chronicle/Associated Press

San Francisco Chronicle/Associated Press, February 19, 2008
Posted: February 25th, 2008

Lawmakers and watchdog groups had harsh words Monday for the U.S. Department of Agriculture after the agency ordered a recall of 143 million pounds of beef from a Southern California slaughterhouse. Beef products dating to Feb. 1, 2006, that came from Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. of Chino (San Bernardino County) are subject to the recall, which is the largest such action in U.S. history. The notice came after the Humane Society of the United States shot undercover video showing crippled and sick animals being shoved with forklifts - treatment that has also triggered an animal-abuse investigation. A congresswoman who chairs a House subcommittee that determines funding levels for the USDA sent a letter ... to the agency's undersecretary for food safety demanding an explanation of the Westland case before a March 5 budgetary review hearing. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., chairwoman of the House Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration Appropriations Subcommittee, called the scenes in the video inhumane and said the video "demonstrates just how far our food safety system has collapsed." DeLauro has called for an investigation into the government's ability to secure the safety of meat in the nation's schools. Westland was a major supplier of beef for the National School Lunch Program. She also asked how the agency is addressing staff shortages among slaughterhouse inspectors - an issue also raised by several food safety experts and watchdog groups. According to Felicia Nestor, a senior policy analyst with Food and Water Watch, a consumer advocacy group based in Washington, anywhere from 7 to 21 percent of slaughterhouse inspector positions have been left vacant by the USDA, depending on the district. "They just don't fill vacancies," Nestor said.

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