I’ve seen a lot of disturbing video in all the animal rights stories I’ve covered in the past 25 years – seen a lot of shocking things in person. But, the scenes uncovered by a Humane Society of the United States investigator at a Southern California slaughterhouse are quite bad. The Westland Meat Company in Chino takes spent cows from dairy farms and processes them for ground beef for the nation’s school lunch programs.
But, many of the animals from the dairy farms are “downer cows” – so sick, they can’t even stand up. By state and federal law, downer cows are not supposed to enter the food supply. They have a much higher chance of having mad cow disease, and they lie in the filth of a slaughterhouse’s holding pens, so they are more likely to spread ecoli and salmonella.
At the Westland plant, the undercover investigator caught workers trying to get downer cows to stand and into the slaughterhouse – by using a forklift, electric shock, and a high pressure hose. You can see the entire video released today by the Humane Society of the United States here.
The USDA has suspended the plant and banned it from the school lunch program, pending an investigation. You can read the USDA statement here. Also today, Westland fired two employees caught on tape abusing cows; you can read a statement from the company’s president here.
At the end of the USDA statement, the Agriculture Secretary takes a shot at the activists: “It is unfortunate that the Humane Society of the United States 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.” Clearly, the USDA is questioning whether the Humane Society should’ve acted sooner, to prevent meat from sick cows being served to school children.
I posed the question to Wayne Pacelle, HSUS President and CEO. His answer: “If we had confidence in the USDA to act responsibly, they would have been our first destination. But, the history on the issue – they’re very tied in with the meat industry.” Pacelle says several weeks ago, the Humane Society took the case to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office. And, when it appeared prosecutors were slow to act, they planned today’s release. Pacelle adds, “We had no interest in sitting on this. Our number one interest was prosecution.”