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Jeffco schools pull beef from lunch menus

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By Matt Gunn

Jeffco Public Schools is one of several districts in Colorado that has pulled beef from its lunch menus this week in response to an undercover Humane Society investigation that showed improper practices in a slaughterhouse.

Commodity beef — loose meat made into hamburger or otherwise processed — from Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. is the culprit for the lunchtime adjustment. Humane Society insider video showed one of Westland’s slaughterhouses processing “downer cows,” or cows that were abused or too sick to stand.

Initial warnings went out to Jeffco schools Feb. 4, with a more detailed update released Feb. 5, said Melissa Reeves, Jeffco Public Schools spokeswoman. Essentially, all beef is on hold in Jeffco schools.

“The beef that’s put on hold is from this certain company called Westland Meat Co.,” Reeves said. “So beef tacos or hamburgers, stuff like that, that’s not being served right now.”

Jeffco’s February menus have been adjusted to reflect the “on-hold” status of the beef. The items on hold include beef crumbles, hamburger patties, country-style steak strips, Philly meat and pre-packaged burritos.

Commercial beef items, such as ravioli, roast beef sliced deli meat and beef fajita meat — items that have not come from Westland Meat — remain unaffected and have not been placed on hold.

Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. has taken down its website as a result of the report and replaced it with a statement from its president, Steve Mendell. In the letter, Mendell says he was surprised by the Humane Society video, which shows the mistreatment of animals, and that the company has retained the services of an outside consultant to take a look at its operations.

“We have voluntarily suspended our operations pending the completion of the USDA investigation,” Mendell’s letter reads. “We are dedicating our full efforts and resources to fully cooperate with the USDA investigative team that has been assigned to our plant.”

The letter also defends the company’s slaughterhouse practices, stating that Westland meets USDA guidelines.

“Finally, I proudly assure our customers that we comply with all USDA requirements, including the requirement that only ambulatory livestock may enter the harvest facility to be processed for human food,” Mendell said. “I am confident that we have met this high regulatory standard.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reacted to the report Jan. 30, saying it would have acted sooner had the Humane Society shared its information prior to publicizing it.

"I am deeply concerned about the allegations made regarding inhumane handling of non-ambulatory disabled cattle in a federally inspected slaughter establishment,” Agriculture Secretary Ed Schaefer said in a statement. "We are confident in our inspection system and the food safety regulations that ensure the safety and wholesomeness of the food supply. Among the federal safeguards in place, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service prohibits non-ambulatory disabled cattle and cattle tissue identified as specified risk materials for use in human food.”