Sick animals were abused to get them to stand up to pass inspection, undercover video shows. Use of meat from 'downer' cows is banned.
By Sarah D. Wire, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer January 31, 2008
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Wednesday that it was investigating a Chino-based supplier of meat to the National School Lunch Program after release of a video showing slaughterhouse workers using inhumane and illegal practices on weak and sick cows.
The video, presented by the Humane Society of the United States at a news conference Wednesday morning, showed workers at Hallmark Meat Packing using forklifts to pick up and roll animals too weak to stand and forcing sick or weak cows to stand by shooting high-pressure water sprays into their nostrils or repeatedly shocking them with electricity.
Video: Humane Society slaughterhouse investigation (WARNING: Graphic content)
Federal and California laws prohibit the slaughter of "downer" cattle -- those that cannot stand or walk -- for the human food supply, to prevent both animal cruelty and the consumption of meat from unhealthy animals.Meat processed at Hallmark is distributed by Westland Meat Co., also of Chino.
According to the USDA, Westland sold 27 million pounds of frozen meat last year to federal food and nutrition programs, including those that provide school lunches and meals for the poor and elderly. Nearly 8 million pounds of that meat went to programs in California; of that amount, more than 5.7 million pounds was used in the Los Angeles area.
The Humane Society said the hidden-camera video was taken by a person who worked at the plant for six weeks last year as part of an undercover investigation by the group. Within hours of the video's release, the USDA suspended Westland's participation in the food and nutrition programs and placed a hold on all products destined for the programs.
The undercover investigation found workers using "Herculean efforts to get 'downers' into the kill box," Pacelle said."The attempt was to make them so distressed and to cause them so much suffering that these animals would get up and walk into the slaughterhouse," he said. "If they could walk past [the inspector] or even just stand, they would pass.
The company obtained the video Tuesday after the Washington Post reported its existence.Magidow said the employees shown in the video had worked in the slaughterhouse for many years and "felt they knew how to handle these animals better than we do."U.S.
Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer issued a news release late Wednesday expressing confidence in the food inspection system, while adding that he was "deeply concerned" about the Humane Society's allegations. But he faulted the society, which he said "did not present this information to us when these alleged violations occurred in the fall of 2007. Had we known at the time the alleged violations occurred, we would have initiated our investigation sooner and taken appropriate actions at that time."