Update: February 25, 2008: Officials at Westland/Hallmark Meat have announced the company will shut down permanently because of financial difficulties following an undercover investigation that revealed cruel treatment of downed cows at its facility in Chino, California.
That investigation resulted in criminal charges so far against 2 employees and the largest meat recall in U.S. history, 143 million pounds.
For more on this and how you can help downed animals at other slaughterhouses, read Animal Law Coalition’s earlier reports below.
Update February 18, 2008: As a direct result of the undercover investigation described below, Westland/Hallmark Meat has recalled what will be about 143 million pounds of meat sold since February, 2006.
Original report: A state prosecutor has filed felony charges of animal cruelty against workers at the Westland/Hallmark Meat Packing plant aka slaughterhouse in Chino, California, in the wake of an investigation into the brutal treatment of cows unable to walk on their own.
The gross abuse of these animals also called downed or non-ambulatory cows was captured on video by the Humane Society of the United States.
The video shows workers kicking, beating, and using electric prods to push these poor animals to slaughter. The cows are jabbed in the eyes. Worse, the workers are shown hitting these animals with forklifts to roll them towards the slaughter house. Chains are used to drag many of the cows. Workers use hoses to spray water up the cows’ noses. It is nothing short of torture.
Westland/Hallmark claims only two workers were involved in the horrific abuse of these cows. The company claims its managers were unaware of the cruelty. If that’s the case, the managers must have been simply not there or asleep; it would be very hard to miss a large forklift shoving cows towards the slaughterhouse.
The USDA currently bans the use of downed or non-ambulatory cows as meat for human consumption. Well, mostly. The regulations do provide now that all non-ambulatory disabled cattle cannot be slaughtered and used for meat. 9 CFR §309.3. But there is a loophole. According to the regulations, the Food Safety Inspection Service ("FSIS") will determine on a case by case basis whether animals that have passed inspection but then become non-ambulatory, may be slaughtered and used for human food. 9 CFR §309.3
Regardless, federal law requires humane treatment of cattle and most other animals in the slaughtering process. Well, sort of. The Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act, 7 U.S.C. 1901-1906 does require humane methods of slaughter and says livestock should be "rendered insensible to pain by a single blow or gunshot or an electrical, chemical or other means that is rapid and effective, before being shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut".
The regulations allow the use of "[e]lectric prods, canvas slappers, or other implements … to drive animals" to slaughter if "used as little as possible in order to minimize excitement and injury". 9 CFR §313.2(b) It’s not clear what "other implements" include. Probably not a forklift.
The regulations do ban the use of objects to drive animals to slaughter that an inspector believes would cause injury or "unnecessary pain" to the animals. 9 CFR §313.2(c Hopefully, the USDA or FSIS employs relatively sensitive inspectors because it is up to them to determine if a particular object used is causing injury or "unnecessary pain". Like the blade of a forklift or water sprayed up a cow’s nose.
Downed animals are not to be dragged and should be moved only in "equipment suitable for such purposes". It is not clear what equipment would be suitable.
The regulations don’t say these downed or non-ambulatory animals can’t be pushed or shoved. There is nothing in the regulations about not using electric prods or "other implements" on these poor downed animals. Or spraying water up their noses. And could Hallmark have thought using a forklift to shove downed cows to slaughter was "equipment suitable for such purpose"? 9 CFR 313.2(b),(d).
Westland Meat supplies meat for school lunches in 36 states at more than 100,000 schools and child care facilities through the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Program. The meat is also used in other federal programs that supply food to the poor and elderly. The contract to supply meat to school lunches has been suspended since the release of the HSUS video.
Newly installed Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer has said, "It is regrettable that these animals were mistreated…" The USDA has now closed the slaughterhouse. The federal Office of the Inspector General continues its investigation and will refer its findings to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.
In the meantime, a state prosecutor has pushed ahead with charges of felony animal cruelty and illegally handling downed cows. San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A. Ramos has charged a Hallmark employee, Daniel Ugarte Navarro with five felony counts of animal cruelty under Cal. Pen. § 597(a) and three misdemeanor counts Cal. Pen. § 599(f) which prohibits using a mechanical device to drag or push downed or non-ambulatory cows. Navarro faces up to 15 years in prison and fines that could exceed $100,000.
Navarro’s coworker, Jose Luis Sanchez, was charged only with three misdemeanors under Cal. Pen. §599(f). The penalty for Sanchez could be up to 18 months in prison and at least $3,000 in fines.
California Sen. Barbara Boxer has issued a statement, ,"These practices are not only inhumane, but can also cause food borne illnesses that can endanger public health…Downed cattle are 58 times more likely to carry mad cow disease than other cattle. Downed cattle also are more likely to carry other food-borne illnesses like E. coli and Salmonella, which kill hundreds of Americans every year".