When you think about the food being served in school cafeterias nationwide, do the words meat recall, animal abuse, unsanitary conditions and slaughter plant shutdowns come to mind? Perhaps they should. A few weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture temporarily shut the doors of Central Valley Meat (CVM), a dairy cow slaughter plant in Hanford, CA — and a major supplier to the National School Lunch Program and other federal food initiatives. The notice to suspend operations was based on USDA findings of unsanitary conditions, the details of which have not yet been publicly disclosed. Yet, just as soon as the media began covering the story, the suspension was lifted, allowing operations to resume. This isn’t the first time USDA has shut down CVM. In August 2012, Compassion Over Killing, a national animal protection organization, released an undercover video exposing the abuse of animals inside this Hanford slaughter plant. The video shows cows, many of whom were sick or injured, being mistreated. Unable to walk to the kill floor, many cows were repeatedly poked, electrically prodded and lifted by their tails in an effort to get them moving. Many were eventually shot in the head. In some cases, cows were shot multiple times before dying. In other cases, despite being shot many times, cows were suffocated to death by workers who stepped on their mouths and nostrils. After viewing this footage, USDA immediately shut the facility down, citing “egregious inhumane handling and treatment of livestock.” This story of abuse made national and international headlines and was the topic of an exclusive investigative report on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer. As a consequence of the shutdown, federal nutrition programs suspended purchases from CVM. Several major food retailers — including In-N-Out Burger, McDonald’s and Costco — also severed ties with the facility. Later that month, however, USDA lifted its operational suspension, allowing CVM to reopen. Shortly thereafter, the federal government resumed its purchases from this facility — putting meat from CVM back onto the plates of our nation’s students. CVM has been shut down twice by USDA, but that’s not all. In 2011, CVM was cited by Cal-OSHA for serious safety violations after a worker was killed in a meat blender. And then, in 2013, CVM issued a recall of an estimated 90,000 pounds of ground beef — meat that was on its way to school cafeterias across the country — based on concerns that it may have contained small pieces of plastic. This is not the only slaughter plant to raise USDA’s concerns for the safety of meat going into our school lunches. In 2008, the Humane Society of the United States uncovered abuses at Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co., another dairy cow slaughter plant in California. USDA shut the facility down in response to the video, which showed sick cows who were too weak to even stand up forced onto the kill floor and slaughtered for human consumption. The agency declared the meat to be “unfit for human food” and issued the largest meat recall in our nation’s history. About a third of that recalled meat — 50 million pounds — had been distributed to American schoolchildren. The questionable safety of the meat entering the National School Lunch Program is hardly a new topic. But with these mounting examples of meat safety concerns, including recalls and slaughter plant shutdowns, the time is ripe to address these important issues for the sake of our children and farmed animals. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common sources of foodborne illness outbreaks come from animal origins. As such, replacing meat with vegetarian options may help reduce food safety risks. Eating more fruits and vegetables offers other health benefits as well. In the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, USDA, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced that “vegetarian-style eating patterns have been associated with improved health outcomes.” The animals would certainly benefit from the switch, too. Schools across the country — from Los Angeles to Baltimore to Buffalo — have successfully adopted Meatless Monday menus, demonstrating support and demand for meat-free, healthy meals. It’s becoming increasingly clear that one of the safest and healthiest choices for our children is to start subtracting meat and adding vegetarian options to the school lunch equation.

  • John Munsell

    Erica, I respectfully disagree with you. My perception is that your paint brush is unwisely broadly labeling the meat industry as being noncompliant with humane handling reg’s, and producing unsanitary meat. Granted, the companies listed above were guilty, and need to suffer the consequences. The vast majority of meat companies are fully compliant, producing consistently safe and wholesome foods, and it is to their economic advantage to do so. So, let’s take your suggestion and reduce meat consumption. Let’s replace it with canteloupe from Colorado, eggs (some vegetarians eat eggs) from Wright County Farm, lots of peanut butter from PCA, lettuce & spinach & peppers & sprouts from various farms in CA & Mexico, and the list goes on interminably. Do you see how specious and biased your conclusions are? There are bad players in EVERY segment of the food industry. Once you admit that, will you then suggest we start eating grass? But, the grass has been defecated on by birds, deer, flies, etc, which carry enteric bacteria such as E.coli & Salmonella. A balanced diet is good for humans, but overconsumption of one item can be deleterious to one’s health. We could feed fruitcake to fruitcakes, which aptly describes folks who propose a less-than-balanced diet. John Munsell ps I still eat lots of canteloupe, peanut butter, eggs, veggies, and beef, and am healthy.

  • crookedstick

    If I had known then what I know now… I would never have allowed my children to consume even one “school lunch.”

  • Samarth Yadav

    save cows and animals go veg plz

    • Paula J. Warman

      I agree don’t eat meat eat vegetables and fruits save the animals they don’t deserve to be treated like that their gods creatures

  • flame

    I feel for any animal being abused but my first concern is for the school children who could potentially be at risk for eating any animal flesh especially in the schools where their parents and/or the children themselves have ‘no’ input into this matter.

  • Jan Fredericks

    The USDA doesn’t want undercover investigations as stated in the Ag-Gag bill. Animal abuse and unsanitary conditions are common. God created us to have a plant-based diet — for better protein, iron, etc….. The agri-business is all about $$$$$. Don’t buy into the diet our government wants us to believe — factory farms are destroying the earth with pollution, using up grain and water that could feed the hungry, and treats billions of innocent animals with horrid living conditions, not to mention that calves are torn from their mothers (for veal or to recycle in the dairy industry), male chicks are ground up alive or thrown in garbage heeps to die for the egg industry, and pigs live in crates. Someday God will hold us all accountable. We are not a ‘nation under God’ when we disrespect His animals.

  • Madeline Hilde Sicinski

    Cows being mistreated is so hard for me to see and read in. After partly watching Earthlings last night, I am now 100% vegan with motives so strong to advocate for veganism and animal rights, especially cows.