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Where's the beef? On hold -- School districts search beef supply for risky meat

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DETROIT LAKES -- In early February, school districts in Minnesota were instructed to put a "hold" on beef that might have come from the Westland Hallmark Company.

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The Minnesota hold was initiated by the Minnesota Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Agriculture because of video footage from the Humane Society of the United States alleging the use of "downer" cows for food slaughter.

The USDA prohibits "non-ambulatory disabled cattle and cattle tissue identified as specified high risk materials for use in human food."

The MDE, in a precautionary measure, issued the hold to its districts to help identify which districts may have received beef from Westland Hallmark.

Districts could have received the beef through the National School Lunch Program, the Emergency Food Assistance Program and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.

In the Detroit Lakes area, superintendents in the Lake Park-Audubon and Frazee-Vergas districts in early February said they were told their supplies were clear.

In a message on the Lake Park-Audubon Web site, superintendent Dale Hogie said the company that processed some of the district's products had received some of the Westland beef, but no shipment numbers were linked to the Westland Hallmark Company.

The Detroit Lakes School District was able to identify some of its beef from the Westland Hallmark Company and put it on hold.

On Feb. 17, the USDA issued a two-year product recall for Westland Hallmark beef.

Since identifying some of the recalled beef in its supply, DL Public Schools business manager Ted Heisserer said they have communicated with the MDE about proper destruction of the product.

"We have to have a health inspector come up here and oversee the disposal of it," he said. "We'll have it done by the end of the month."

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schaefer, in a statement regarding the recall, said he was "dismayed at the inhumane handling of cattle that has resulted in the violation of food safety regulations at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company."

Schaefer's statement said the food would be removed from schools and other holding facilities and be destroyed.

The MDE cautioned that the hold issued in early February was a precaution, no illnesses had been reported in connection with the beef and that no increased health risk was in evidence.

It also said it would communicate with affected districts and provide information on how to dispose of the recalled beef. Disposal will have to follow all the requirements of the USDA, the state, and local health authorities.

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