Lawmakers call for probe of school meat supply

By Anastasia Tomazhenkova: Democratic lawmakers requested an investigation into the safety of meat used in the National School Lunch Program, citing concerns raised by a recent finding that a Chino plant slaughtered and processed meat from unfit animals.

Westland Meat Co, one of the largest suppliers of beef to the National School Lunch Program and other federal food assistance efforts, voluntarily stopped operations after an affiliate, California-based Hallmark Meat Packing Co, was accused of mistreating disabled or "downer" cattle.

The Humane Society of the United States released videotapes on January 30 that showed Hallmark workers using a variety of abusive techniques to force unfit cattle into the slaughterhouse so they could be processed into food.

Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., along with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., sent a letter Thursday to the Government Accountability Office. In the letter, they asked GAO to investigate the process for protecting students from dangerous food, and how quickly and accurately schools can assess and pull potentially contaminated products.

"While these initial steps by USDA were appropriate, they leave unanswered a larger question about the overall effectiveness of the federal government's effort to ensure the safety of meat in the school food supply," the lawmakers said in the letter.

Since then, USDA has withdrawn inspectors, put a "hold" on all Westland products and suspended the company indefinitely as a supplier to federal nutrition programs.

USDA says it won't let operations resume until the company - which says it has fired two employees shown in the video - develops a corrective plan.