Group Calls on USDA to Close Loophole in Its Policy on Slaughter of Crippled Cows and on Congress to Enact Tougher Laws
In the wake of the staggering recall of 143 million pounds of beef—the largest in the nation's history by far—The Humane Society of the United States is calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Congress to take immediate steps to strengthen federal humane handling procedures and to enact more stringent laws to prevent a recurrence of the gross abuses documented at a southern California slaughter plant.
The HSUS affirmed the USDA-initiated recall as a prudent response. While most of the recalled beef has already been consumed, the recall is an appropriate measure not only to mitigate risks to public health, but also to send a message that such inhumane behavior can have dramatic consequences for slaughter plants which permit it.
The HSUS also called on USDA to change its policy and prohibit the slaughter of all—not just some—downed cows. As well, the organization is asserting that this case further underscores the need for Congress to enact pending farm animal welfare legislation -- the Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act and the Farm Animal Stewardship Purchasing Act – with no further delay.
The beef recall came in response to The Humane Society of the United States' investigation documenting crippled cows being tormented at a Southern California slaughter plant. The abuse occurred even though USDA had a number of inspectors at the slaughter plant.
HSUS President & CEO Wayne Pacelle stated, "A recall of this staggering scale shows it's bad for animals, bad for consumers, and bad for business to have slipshod enforcement and porous laws when it comes to handling animals at slaughter plants."
After being provided videotaped evidence and a detailed report of the undercover investigation, San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos on Friday charged one of the slaughter plant's employees with five felony counts under California's anti-cruelty statute and three misdemeanor counts for abusing downed animals. A second worker was charged with three misdemeanors counts of abusing downed animals.
Pacelle continued, "The plant HSUS investigated has been shut down indefinitely, its products have been recalled, and two of its employees are now facing criminal charges, with additional legal action almost certain to follow. Every slaughter plant in the nation should heed the messages sent by this investigation."
Because the slaughter plant, Hallmark/Westland, shipped potentially dangerous ground beef to schools across the country as part of the National School Lunch Program, The HSUS also urges the USDA to take swift criminal and civil action to make sure Hallmark and its management are held responsible for this criminal conduct.
Feb. 17, 2008: USDA announces recall of 143 million pounds of beef, the nation's largest recall to date, from Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co.
Feb. 15, 2008: San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A. Ramos charges Daniel Ugarte Navarro with five felony counts under California's anti-cruelty statute and three misdemeanor counts alleging the use of a mechanical device to move "downer" cows, those unable to stand on their own, and a second worker, Jose Luis Sanchez, with three misdemeanors involving downers.
Feb. 5, 2008: USDA announces it has pulled its inspectors and shut down the cattle slaughter plant that was the subject of an HSUS undercover investigation. USDA Undersecretary Dr. Richard Raymond cites "egregious violations of humane handling regulations" in pulling inspectors from the plant.
Jan. 31, 2008: The HSUS urges schools in 36 states to stop serving Westland meat received through the National School Lunch Program.
Jan. 30, 2008: USDA suspends Westland Meat Co. as a supplier to the National School Lunch Program and other federal nutrition programs, in response to the weeks-long HSUS investigation of the plant.
Jan. 30, 2008: The HSUS reveals weeks-long investigation's findings of widespread mistreatment of nonambulatory dairy cows at a Hallmark Meat Packing Co., of Chino, California.
The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization – backed by 10.5 million Americans, or one of every 30. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty -- On the web at humanesociety.org.
Author: Robert Langreth, Forbes.com
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