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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Westland/Hallmark Meat Company Admits Slaughter of Sick Cows

Although I have written about this meat recall many a times, this is the first time I was able to give proper information on HSUS, The Humane Society of the United States.
The president of a slaughterhouse at the heart of the largest meat recall denied under oath on Wednesday, but then grudgingly admitted, that his company had apparently introduced sick cows into the hamburger supply.
He then tried to minimize the significance.
The executive, Steve Mendell of the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company of Chino, Calif., said, “I was shocked. I was horrified. I was sickened,” by video that showed employees kicking or using electric prods on “downer” cattle that were too sick to walk, jabbing one in the eye with a baton and using forklifts to push animals around.

The testimony of the slaughter plant executive who is at the center of a national animal abuse scandal raises even more questions and concerns about the humane treatment of animals destined for slaughter.

In Wednesday's testimony before the House Energy and Commerce investigative subcommittee, Hallmark/Westland executive Steve Mendell conceded that downed cows—those who are too sick or injured to walk—went into the food supply after the committee chairman played videotape evidence from an undercover investigation by The Humane Society of the United States showing a "downer" cow entering the plant's kill box — which is the final step before slaughter.

Mendell previously stated unequivocally that he was unaware of rampant abuse of cattle at his facility, which slaughtered "spent" dairy cows.

"These weak and infirm downer cows were tormented by slaughter plant workers," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. "Mr. Mendell said he was unaware of the daily abuses that happened on the grounds of the single slaughter plant he owned. Either he is willfully misrepresenting his knowledge, or he was an incompetent manager of the plant he owned."

Mendell testified that his employees received "intense" training in the humane handling of animals. The HSUS investigator, however, never received the training referenced in Mendell's testimony.

According to the investigator, the tools used by the plant to mislead inspectors and auditors included posting signs at the unloading dock that electric prods were not allowed, even though prods were repeatedly used at the facility; and instructing employees not to use electric prods while auditors were present at the facility, but not otherwise limiting their use at other times.

At issue are cows unable to stand by themselves. Generally, these downer animals are not permitted to be slaughtered for food because they may carry a higher risk of disease, including infection with E. coli, Salmonella and bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The six-week undercover investigation by The HSUS showed plant employees brutalizing such suffering animals with electric prods, the blades of forklifts, and even the application of high-pressure water into their mouths and nostrils – all to get them to stand long enough to be inspected for slaughter or to walk up the kill chute.

It is important to note that when news of the HSUS investigation first broke, Mendell denied even the basic facts of the mistreatment of cattle at his plant. He was quoted in The Washington Post on January 30 as saying, "That's impossible" that electric prods were used. As for water forced into the nostrils of downer cows, he was quoted as saying, "That's absolutely not true."

"This case is a wake-up call to the slaughter industry in America," said Pacelle. "The Hallmark/Westland plant had the full complement of USDA inspectors, and the president of the company says that the company provided intense training to its animal handling staff and had a series of third-party audits. If his claims are true, then the USDA oversight system, the third party audits, and the company's so-called training programs did nothing to halt abject cruelty to animals. We must wonder how far and wide this conduct can be found throughout the industry."

Information from HSUS; 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

Also from NYT Business.

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