VEGA News Item

Downer Cows, Milk, Cruelty and Health Risks - 22/02/2008
Unprecedented “Recall” of US Beef, Most Already Eaten

Appalling evidence of cruelty in a big slaughterhouse (“packing plant”) has been adduced in undercover evidence obtained by the Humane Society of the USA (HSUS).

Unprecedented “Recall” of US Beef, Most Already Eaten

1. Appalling evidence of cruelty in a big slaughterhouse (“packing plant”) has been adduced in undercover evidence obtained by the Humane Society of the USA (HSUS). It was presented last week when San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A Ramos charged two employees of the Hallmark Meat Company with animal cruelty. Specific evidence of cruelty, which was collected last autumn, includes:

• Cows struck repeatedly in the face and eyes when they are plainly unable to stand (and can therefore be classified as “downers”).
• Non-ambulatory cows rammed and dropped with a mechanical forklift in attempts to force them to their feet.
• Helpless animals unable to stand are dragged across ridged concrete at the end of a chain.
• A cow forced to endure simulated drowning in an attempt to make her rise. A high-pressure hose is used to force water down the mouth and nose of a non-ambulatory cow for several minutes, while an employee shouts “Up or die!”.

2. Hallmark principally slaughters “spent” dairy cows for Westland Meat Co, which was the nation’s number 2 supplier of ground (minced) beef for the National School Lunch Program. Cruelty charges against Hallmark employees were brought under California’s animal protection law, which prohibits maiming, mutilation, torturing, or wounding an animal. Employees were also charged with violating state law which prohibits use of a mechanical device to push or drag cows who are unable to stand or walk. Such animals must be humanely “euthanized” or removed (but where to, we ask).

3. The HSUS proclaims its concern on all cases involving animal cruelty. “It doesn’t matter whether the mistreated animal is a beloved family pet or a cow at a slaughterhouse. Unnecessary cruelty will not be tolerated and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent allowed by law”, states DA Michael A Ramos. “The filing of these charges marks a milestone because farm animals are normally denied – either on account of legal loopholes, cultural disregard, or by virtue of being kept out of public sight – the most basic protections afforded other creatures”, states Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the HSUS, which is the largest animal protection organization in the USA; it is backed by 10.5m Americans or 1 in 30 of the population.

4. Convictions on the felony charges brought against the 2 employees of the Hallmark Meat Company could bring a sentence of up to 15 years in prison and $100,000 in fines for one of the workers, plus additional penalties on misdemeanour charges. The second worker was charged with 3 misdemeanours involving downers; he faces up to 18 months in jail and $3,000 in fines if convicted. As a consequence of the HSUS investigation the US Dept of Agriculture (USDA) has removed inspectors from the plant, which effectively shuts it down. Although USDA has rated the health risk as “minimal”, it has ordered the recall of 64.9m kg of raw and frozen beef – the largest recall in the country’s history. USDA has classified the recall class 2, meaning that “there is a remote probability the product could harm health if consumed”. Dick Raymond, USDA undersecretary for food safety, states: “We don’t think there is a health hazard, but we do have to take this action”.

5. The recall was ordered after department officials said “the plant did not consider inspections of cattle which lost the ability to walk prior to contamination by E. coli, salmonella, or contracting mad cow disease, as they have weaker immune systems and greater contact with feces than walking cattle. They should either be removed from the food supply, or receive a more thorough inspection following slaughter”. The USDA has recalled frozen beef products from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co in Chino, California, dating back to 01 February 2006, but officials admit that “most of the recalled meat has probably already been eaten”.

6. Nearly a quarter of the “recalled” meat had been used to feed children under a federal school lunch program for poor families. Much of the rest went to 2 fast-food outlets – Jack in the Box and In N Out Burger. Caroline Smith de Waal, food safety director of the consumer advocacy group the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, says: “Consumers are losing confidence in [the government’s] ability to ensure the meat they eat is safe. Once again, the USDA is in reactive mode – taking steps to protect the public long after a highly publicized animal welfare scandal”. She asked: “Where were the inspectors who should have been preventing downer cattle from entering the food supply? Where were the safeguards to make sure that meat from sick animals did not end up on school lunch trays?”

7. There are many comparisons we could make with the British Meat Hygiene Service and its commitments in independent, adequately-financed supervision on animal welfare from farm to slaughter, and especially the care of overworked, cast cows from the dairy-herds. It’s not only beef that comes from intensively run dairy-herds and cattle on feed-lots, but the main products the cowboys and consumers exploit these cows for – milk and calves.


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