The U.S. Department of Agriculture said on Sunday it had recalled 143 million pounds (65 million kg) of beef produced by a California company, marking the largest meat recall in the country's history.
The department described it as a Class 2 recall, meaning there was a low risk of illness.
The recall was ordered because the plant violated rules barring the slaughter of "downer" cattle in almost all cases as a precaution against Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad-cow disease. Downer refers to cattle unable to walk.
Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. of Chino is taking back all raw and frozen products it has produced since Feb. 1, 2006, because the cattle didn't receive complete and proper inspection, according to a department statement.
The department told reporters it was not sure how much of the recalled meat had been consumed, but that there was a very remote chance of anyone becoming ill from consuming these products.
The department inspector general's office is also investigating animal treatment and rules violations at the facility, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said in the statement.
"It is extremely unlikely that these animals were at risk for BSE," he said. "However, this action is necessary because plant procedures violated USDA regulations."
Representative George Miller, a California Democrat whose district doesn't include Chino, said Congress needs to conduct hearings into the safety of meat in federal nutrition programs.
"This recall raises alarming questions about the U.S. Department of Agriculture's ability to monitor the safety of meat that is being shipped to our nation's schools," Miller said in an e-mailed statement.
The current meat recall is more than four times the size of the second-largest ever, a 35-million-pound (16-million-kg) removal of Thorn Apple Valley Inc. ready-to-eat meats potentially contaminated with listeria in Jan. 1999, said Richard Raymond, agriculture under secretary for food safety, in a teleconference call.
(Agencies via Xinhua News Agency February 18, 2008)