Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co., which issued the biggest meat recall in U.S. history last week, probably will shut down permanently, the company's general manager told The Wall Street Journal.

"I don't see any way we could reopen," Anthony Magidow said in a telephone interview from the meatpacker's plant in Chino, Calif., late Friday.

The meatpacker voluntarily suspended operations in early February, after the U.S. Department of Agriculture began investigating how it treated animals.

The USDA has said the slaughterhouse might be able to resume operating if it met certain conditions. But Mr. Magidow said, "we are a small private company," and cash has become tight. Among other problems, some customers stopped payment on checks they had sent the company for meat that is part of the recall of 143 million pounds of beef, he said.

Federal food-safety regulators said Thursday that they intend to require that Hallmark/Westland, a leading supplier to the National School Lunch Program, pay for the costs associated with destroying and replacing meat submitted to the program.

"If the USDA wants payment back, we're dead meat. We're done," said Mr. Magidow, 46 years old, who has worked at the company for more than 15 years. "There's no way we could pay it all back."

The company's president and owner, Steve Mendell, was unavailable to comment Friday, and the company's controller, Juan Acevedo, referred an interview request to Mr. Magidow.

Mr. Magidow said the company has laid off 250 workers and that a skeleton group of top managers is managing the recall. Until the plant suspended operations, it was earning a modest profit on annual sales of roughly $100 million, he said. "It's a low profit-margin business," he said.

In the last government fiscal year, the Agriculture Department paid Hallmark/Westland about $39 million for ground beef for food nutrition programs, including the school-lunch program. Hallmark/Westland was honored by the department as its Supplier of the Year for the 2004-05 school year. It began supplying meat to the program in 2003 after a rigorous application process with the Agriculture Department, which has authorized about 10 meatpackers nationwide to compete for contracts to supply beef to the program.

Comment: So what seems to have happened was that price of meat became the only really critical factor in the Agriculture Department's choice of meatpacker, with little attention being given to health issues.

The USDA investigation began after the Humane Society of the United States released an undercover video showing workers at the Chino slaughterhouse trying to make sick or injured cows stand up with electrical-shock devices, fork lifts and high-pressure water hoses. State and federal animal-cruelty laws prohibit such activities.

The company quickly fired the two workers in the video and began taking steps to be reauthorized by the Agriculture Department. But the USDA issued a recall of 143 million pounds of beef on Feb. 17, after additional evidence showed the company had on rare occasions since February 2006 slaughtered cows that had fallen to the ground after passing a pre-slaughter inspection. In such cases, the company is supposed to contact a federal inspector before going ahead with the slaughter, and agency officials said it did not.

Slaughtering downer cows, those that can't walk or stand on their own, is generally prohibited under federal rules because the cows are believed to carry higher risks of diseases including mad-cow disease, which can cause a rare but fatal brain disorder in humans.

The government says much of the recalled meat has already been consumed, that the risk of harm is low and that no illnesses have been reported.

According to authors of a study prepared for Congress by the Government Accountability Office, the incubation period for mad-cow disease is two to eight years in cattle and up to 30 years in humans.

The Agriculture Department is under fire from lawmakers and consumer-advocacy groups because it failed to catch problems at the plant. Agency inspectors are continuously on hand at all meatpacking facilities. Congressional hearings on meat safety begin next week.

Regulators have said the facility could reopen if it met specific conditions. Most important, the company must "identify significant, and in this case multilayered, corrective actions that give us some level of confidence that it's not going to occur in the future," Agriculture Department official Kenneth Petersen told reporters during a briefing Thursday. "And then we verify their corrective actions over a multi-month period of time."