USDA recalls 143 mln lbs of beef from Calif plant <LI class=publication>Reuters Sunday February 17 2008 WASHINGTON, Feb 17 (Reuters) - The U.S. Agriculture Department said on Sunday it had recalled 143 million pounds of beef produced by a California plant accused of mistreating animals, marking the largest beef recall in the country's history. The USDA described it as a Class 2 recall, meaning there was a low risk of illness. USDA officials said the meat comes from animals slaughtered and processed since Feb 1, 2006, when the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co was first considered being in noncompliance with USDA animal inspection rules. The recall was ordered because the plant violated rules barring the slaughter of "downer" cattle in almost all cases as a precaution against mad cow. Downer refers to cattle unable to walk. 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.