Thursday, January 31, 2008

Humane Society video of workers abusing "downer" cattle

The Humane Society has a remarkable video of workers using a forklift to get "downer" cattle up on their feet long enough to pass inspection.

Beyond the cruelty evident in the video, the Washington Post explains that putting downer cattle into the food supply is dangerous.
One reason that regulations call for keeping downers -- cows that cannot stand up -- out of the food supply is that they may harbor bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease. It is caused by a virus-like infectious particle that can cause a fatal brain disease in people.

Another is because such animals have, in many cases, been wallowing in feces, posing added risks of E. coli and salmonella contamination.

The Humane Society and other groups have for years urged Congress to pass legislation that would tighten oversight at slaughterhouses.
Here is the USDA response yesterday from Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer:
"While we are conducting our investigation, today, USDA has indefinitely suspended Westland Meat Company as a supplier to Federal food and nutrition programs. Westland Meat Company will not be permitted to produce or deliver any products currently under contract. Under the suspension, no further contracts will be awarded to Westland Meat Company. The suspension will remain in effect until all investigations are complete and appropriate action is taken by the Department. An administrative hold has been placed on all Westland Meat Products that are in, or destined for Federal food and nutrition programs.

"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."
The coverage at Ethicurean doesn't think much of Schafer's complaint that the Humane Society should have come directly to USDA with this information.
The USDA had ample opportunities to discover what was going on. An inspector visited the Westland plant twice a day at the same exact time — always a great way to keep tabs on something. Do health inspectors tell restaurants when they’re coming through?

The meat industry in this country is broken from start to finish. We take ruminants and feed them grain their stomachs weren’t designed to eat, treating them like garbage disposals for our industrial leftovers; implant steroids so they’ll grow faster; feed them antibiotics so they can survive the poor diets and crowded feedlot conditions; then ship them to slaughterhouses where they are killed and processed at speeds that practically beg for bacterial contamination and worker injuries.

What will it take to get Americans to stop eating beef that’s been marinated in E. coli and suffering? At what point will we say enough is enough?
My five-year-old daughter has been asking questions about vegetarianism, which I'll tell you about in a future post. Meanwhile, maybe it's time to join the New York Time's Mark Bittman in at least rethinking our meat consumption.


Anonymous said...

I thought USDA inspectors had to be at the larger USDA inspected plants (this sounds like a big one) all the time that the plant is processing animals and that they had to inspect every animal visually both while they were alive and their parts later. I thought that this was the whole basis of USDA inspection. If this is true, isn't the USDA complicit in letting this happen? If it isn't true, when did it change?

Anonymous said...

After watching this video, I think the animal handling practices are obviously in need of some reformation. Being a dairy kid, I have seen cows drag out of our barn because of a broken leg or a very bad case of milk fever. These cows are not necessarily a threat to the food supply as long as a vet or someone of animal science can clear this animal's health status for slaughter.

Another point to think about is who is working at these plants? What minority or education level are we dealing with? Are these individuals being trained to handle downer cows or just doing whatever? If the training practices are not in place to handle these animals with more dignity, I would say there is a big problem.

Finally, the USDA inspector, I would imagine is probably tied up inside looking at processing and production than outside looking at animals being brought in from a holding pen some distance away from the slaughter house. Depending on that particular USDA inspector, the animal treatment may not concern him/her since the health of the animal is first and foremost. Farming is not small anymore. I grew up on a small dairy in WI. The growing world population and more so the growing world export of animals puts a huge economic demand for beef. This is how the industry answered the call. It is not pretty, but I do always say to those PETA types you raise 200 head of beef or dairy and work day in and day out every morning, night, everyday of the week, month, and year and perhaps some appreciation will come for the horizontal and vertical animal production chains.

I do not personally like the general direction farming has taken in the last 25 years, but as a young professional working in the food world I want to see all points of view. Should we feed these cows to our school kids? Should schools be even feeding kids with today's problems of obesity and fat and food safety. There are many bigger and harder questions concerning out school lunch program than how many downer cows are being slaughtered.

Out of curiosity- How many downer cows are slaughter in a year at this plant? Ratio downer:non-downer. I would like to put this in some number perspective.

Anonymous said...

I am very happy to see this video getting mainstream attention. Once I started doing research on factory farming, there was NO WAY for myself, or my family to go back to our old eating habits. I strongly believe that the public has a right, and an obligation to know from where, and how their food comes to the table. I would ask anyone out there that hasn't seen battery cages, dairies, and other slaughterhouse practices to do your own research. Videos abound online, and it is obvious that they are the NORM, rather than the exception. We CAN change the way farming is done--Money talks, people, it doesn't mean we can't eat meat, but we should stand up for our right (and the animals') to have it be more humane. Think local, organic--It is a win, win, win--for the animals, for our children's and our own health and the environment. Reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma", and "The Ethics of What We Eat" is a great way to make educated choices. Let's stop hiding our heads in the sand, as I did for years--and take a huge step in the right direction! Thank you Humane Society, for airing this!

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I think that this video is worthwhile to make us think about our meat consumption. But realistically, I'd hope someone is looking for a workable level of meat production. As a country, we're not going to stop eating meat, but there has to be some reasonable number that we can manage, because clearly the current operations are too large.

Anonymous said...

If folks are seriously concerned about the environment they need to understand and fix root causes or problems.

The New York times article was a perfect example of looking at symptoms of a problem while utterly ignoring what causes the symptoms.

Farm subsidies and biofuel mandates drive monoculture grain production, not meat production.

Until subsidies and mandates are addressed nothing will change in grain production.

Articles like Mark Bittman have the perverse impact of actually helping sustain and maintain environmental destruction.


Anonymous said...

Here is an example of why articles like Mark Bittman's are utterly futile and counterproductive.

In the end they increase environmental destruction by drawing attention away from what drives the destruction.

What about the land?

The hype over biofuels in the U.S. and Europe has had wide-ranging effects perhaps not envisioned by the environmental advocates who promote their use.

Throughout tropical countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, and Colombia, rainforests and grasslands are being cleared for soybean and oil-palm plantations to make biodiesel, a product that is then marketed halfway across the world as a "green" fuel.


Anonymous said...

I don't think I have seen anything that upsets me as much as viewing the video I saw on the news this morning! This is unforgivable!!! We must unite to end this treatment
in the slauter houses in our country!!!!

Anonymous said...

This is the reason why I have phased out red meat and/or all Mammal meat--years ago. I knew slaughter houses were horrifying, inhumane, and FILTHY in sooo many ways, but this is worse than I imagined. My next goal is to finish phasing out dairy--as you can see dairy cows get the cruelest betrayal of trust. Knowing the "nice retirement" that awaits dairy cows sure turns me off milk, cheese, & icecream. Don't forget what awaits the diary calves that must be produced every year to make milk.
Note: I do promote the "eat local" & "know what you're eating" ideas. The humane & ethical raising & slaughtering of animals makes HUGE sense from a biology & microbiology standpoint. Also watch any shows about the 1918 Influenza epidemic, the creation of SARS epidemic, etc, and you will know they come from the "perfect storm" of inhumane treatment, stress, crowding & filth. We never learn and it WILL happen again.

Anonymous said...

throw all this people in prison where the animal abuser blackman football player named vick is and don`t excuse the top management or the owners remember it happen in there property and they should know what was going on in there properties or do only no white animal abusers go to prison

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that the main concern expressed seems to be: whether the meat from downed cows is safe to eat.
We should also ask ourselves: can eating food that comes from cruelty harm our souls/spirits?
In particular, if our children are raised to think of other living beings as food/objects to be used and consumed, this can cause a moral numbing that could lead to a lack of sensitivity to human beings as well.
Think about if you want to continue eating meat.

Anonymous said...

This is just absolutely sad. Major changes/shifts in the world are all started by a small group of committed people. This is something worth standing for. As humans we have the privilege and responsibility to stand as a voice for those who can't talk.

Anonymous said...

These animals are sensitive creatures with so many feelings! When I lived in rural France I had to pass cows on a daily morning walk-- it became clear to me that each one had its own unique personality-- charming beautiful living beings with souls and emotions. I can't believe what arrogance we humans have to think that everything on the planet exists for our comfort -- complete disregard for the sensitivity of souls for our selfish consumption and research! Each cow knows and can see what is happening to the cow before it!!