The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) spends more than $1.5 billion annually to fund the National School Lunch Program. The USDA enters into contracts with thousands of vendors to purchase food products ranging from vegetables to fresh meats. The USDA then distributes this food to recipient state agencies, that is, individual states that participate in the National School Lunch Program. The individual states then distribute food to local school districts and eventually to schoolchildren.
Unfortunately, many large food vendors defraud the USDA by delivering non-conforming food products, that is to say, food that has been prepared, handled or processed in a way that does not conform to government specifications.
One area of concern deals with the ethical treatment and slaughter of livestock. Since 2000, the USDA has commonly included in its contracts with food vendors certain requirements dealing with the ethical treatment and slaughter of livestock. As an example, meat processors may not slaughter non-ambulatory or disabled animals – so-called “downer cows.” In extreme examples, slaughterhouses have been known to drag disabled animals with chains and/or move them with forklifts into the slaughter facility.
This type of conduct violates federal regulations and federal contracting guidelines. Other violations include the excessive use of electric shock or “hot shots” to move animals, and schemes to evade USDA inspections.
Meat processing facilities and other contractors who knowingly and deliberately violate federal regulations and contract specifications defraud the government and expose themselves to liability under the False Claims Act.
In 2007, the Humane Society of the United States conducted an undercover investigation of several large meat processors and discovered numerous violations of contract specifications and government regulations. This led to a successful qui tam case, U.S. ex rel Humane Society of the United States v. Hallmark Meatpacking Co., Case No. 08 – 00221 (Central District of California).
The Hallmark case provides important precedent for the success of future qui tam whistleblower cases based upon the unethical treatment of animals or other fraud against the USDA.
If you believe your employer is committing a fraud against the government, you should act quickly to learn your rights from a knowledgeable qui tam whistleblower lawyer. Feel free to contact our firm toll-free for a confidential and free evaluation of your case at (877) 915-4040. We have assisted whistleblowers in recovering millions of dollars from companies who have cheated the government.