January 2008 Blog Home March 2008


23 posts from February 2008


February 29, 2008

Greed vs. Good Sense

Yesterday was a big day for farm animals.

Pig in crate
© USDA

First, Californians for Humane Farms—a statewide ballot initiative committee that The HSUS helped to create—turned in to the state of California nearly 800,000 signatures in support of a prospective November 2008 petition to phase out veal and gestation crates and battery cages. Because we eclipsed our goal of 650,000 total signatures by such a wide margin, the measure should easily qualify for the ballot. Kudos to the thousands of volunteer activists who spent so many hours gathering signatures at hundreds of locations throughout the state. We'll soon move into the persuasion phase of the campaign, urging voters to put a stop to cruel confinement practices that are so severe that calves and pigs cannot even turn around and hens can't even extend their wings in their enclosures. It's going to be a multimillion-dollar battle, and we'll need your help. Lots of it. We'll only win if we mount a massive grassroots effort to reach every voter in the state.

Second, the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Agriculture Appropriations held a hearing focused exclusively on the issues raised by The HSUS's investigation into the Hallmark/Westland Meat Co. of Chino, Calif. I testified, along with newly appointed Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer and American Meat Institute President J. Patrick Boyle (you can read the testimonies and watch the hearing here).

In his opening remarks and in the questioning of witnesses, Subcommittee Chairman Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) called for a "bright line" ban on downed cattle in the food supply and the establishment of surveillance cameras at all slaughter plants throughout the United States. He, Sen. Tom Harkin, and other senators expressed great concerns about the gaps in humane handling of animals at slaughter plants and said that the American people expect more. “Why don’t you have a system that uncovers this inhumane treatment of animals?" asked Sen. Kohl of Secretary Schafer. Sen. Kohl asked the right questions, and had a raft of policy recommendations that he's vowed to press. I was particularly grateful to him and nearly all of the other senators present for praising The HSUS for its role in bringing the cruelty and food safety problems to public attention.

Secretary Schafer, who was only on his second day on the job when our slaughter plant investigation broke in the press on Jan. 30, has treated the issue with the seriousness that it deserves. After all, he initiated the biggest beef recall in American history in response to our findings. He, too, thanked The HSUS for bringing the facts to light.

However, he essentially argued that the USDA's humane handling and food safety systems are not broken, and that a few refinements in protocols should correct the situation. He said that the USDA would do more random checks, would audit the companies that supply the National School Lunch Program, and would step up enforcement efforts. But these measures fall unbelievably short of the mark. He resisted Sen. Kohl's call for a ban on downer animals, and he was skeptical of the need for new criminal penalties for violators of humane handling laws or for surveillance cameras at the slaughterhouses.

Downed cow at Hallmark/Westland Meat Co.
© The HSUS
A downed cow at Hallmark/Westland Meat Co.

There was nothing bold or imaginative offered yesterday by the USDA. Just the mantra that you can trust the agency. And that's just not good enough. There are serious issues raised by our investigation, and reforms must follow.

I had to ask during my testimony, "How many other major crises, recalls, and public scares will this nation tolerate before we adopt an unambiguous policy banning downer cattle in the food supply?" In December 2003, the American people collectively dropped their forks and knives when a downer cow slaughtered for human consumption tested positive for mad cow disease in Washington state. Consumer confidence in the safety of the food supply was more than rattled, and more than 40 nations closed their markets to American beef.

Now, we have a second major crisis related to downed animals, and for the life of me, I cannot understand why the industry won't support a no-downer policy and wipe away the problem of animals too sick or injured to walk getting into the food supply. Unfortunately, greed appears to be trumping good sense. Players within the industry are intent on squeezing every last dime out of downed animals and subjecting them to inhumane treatment to get them to the kill box. Their tolerance for the abuse of downers is morally repugnant and economically disastrous.

Continue reading "Greed vs. Good Sense" »

February 28, 2008

Talk Back: Calls for Reform

I am heading over to Capitol Hill now to testify at a U.S. Senate Subcommittee hearing, which was called to discuss the recent HSUS investigation into cruelty to downed dairy cows at the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co., the subsequent beef recall, and USDA oversight issues (to watch a live broadcast of the hearing, click here). These concerns aren't only on the minds of Congress members. Readers continue to voice their outrage, and here are just some of the comments we've received over the last few days:

Why didn't the USDA catch this? Isn't this their job—not The HSUS? They should be held accountable as well. Who knows how long this has been going on. —Kathryn Dennis

I cannot agree with you more. I found the USDA spokesperson's comments deplorable. And the secretary is "dismayed"? We don't pay him for that—we pay him and all the other staff at the USDA to do their jobs. The only reason the USDA is investigating is because of your video—it is clear that their full-time inspector at this plant was grossly negligent. Those poor animals. —Vijaya Ramachandran

I am glad the two employees are being prosecuted; however, I think others in management must be guilty. I don't think the two would have tried so hard to move the "downers" if it wasn't an unwritten policy at the slaughterhouse. I suspect this behavior is common practice at Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. and at many other slaughterhouses too. —Barbara Hughes

Congratulations to the Humane Society for exposing this terrible situation! I am so saddened by this story, and I hope that the workers who are guilty of this crime get the maximum punishment allowable. I am not too pleased with Westland/Hallmark's feeble response..."shocked and horrified?" He was the president of the company and it is his JOB to know what's going on in that facility! No excuses! I think he needs to be held accountable for this outrage. —Dana

I have worked in a USDA-regulated plant before (no live animals on the premises, though) and conditions were the same as in this video. All workers are notified of upcoming inspections and to be on their best behavior. As soon as the inspector left, it was back to the usual (poor) business practices of cutting corners, not following safety and sanitary procedures, etc. It makes me sick that people have such disregard not only for necessary regulations, but also for lives that may be affected—animal or human. —Liz

In an LA Times article Feb. 20, 2008, by Victoria Kim, USDA floor inspectors claim that they are routinely outwitted by slaughterhouse workers. As one inspector puts it, "If I'm tied on the slaughter line, the company can run amok". What an excuse! We are in the 21st century. The USDA should rethink how to inspect these slaughterhouses. They should require them to install cameras that are turned on at all times to monitor all aspects of the slaughter process. Police are required to have such cameras to monitor their actions during arrests and interrogations. Why not requiring the same from slaughterhouses? This will circumvent the problem of "not enough inspectors." Please forward this suggestion to the USDA. —Moktar Salama

"For four months they [HSUS] sat on that information," he told CNN yesterday. Secretary Ed Schafer keeps saying that because the truth is, the slaughterhouse and the USDA are guilty! It is just their way to put the blame somewhere else. The blame belongs on the slaughterhouse as well as the USDA. Their regulations are not enforced and they know it. They don't care! Why can't they take responsibility? Why can't they thank The HSUS for bringing this to light? Now is the time for the USDA to make some big changes within their organization pertaining to slaughterhouses and how the facilities they regulate treat the animals. Thank you HSUS! —Dana in Chicago

What a shame the USDA went on the offensive against Wayne and The HSUS rather than looking in the mirror and realizing the problem is with themselves. —Brian

Continue reading "Talk Back: Calls for Reform" »

February 27, 2008

Young Voices Heard

Young advocates are a powerful force in our movement. We saw evidence of this last week, when two teenage boys testified at an Oregon Senate hearing to help toughen penalties for dogfighting. Oregon State Rep. Brian Clem said it best to the Statesman Journal: "This is the greatest thing. The advocacy from these students will make the chances of it passing in the House go up 100 percent."

Cow and young girl in pasture
© iStockphoto

When The HSUS locks arms with our rank-and-file supporters to speak out against cruelty, the voices of our young advocates give us vitality and renew our commitment to the future. We rally their support through action alerts in our online offerings just for kids, teens, and humane educators. They are essential to our success, as well as to our future.

Just consider another recent event. Untold thousands—no doubt, millions—of Americans sounded their outrage in the aftermath of The HSUS’s recent undercover investigation of slaughter plant cruelty to dairy cows. In this awful case, nobody had a bigger stake than young people. Much of the meat from these sick, injured and horribly mistreated cows was headed straight for their school cafeterias under the National School Lunch Program.

Below are just a few of the comments we received from students who spoke up. To them I say: I am so proud of you. Keep it up.

I wrote a letter to the USDA Secretary about stopping the abuse of sick and injured cows. I also asked them to stop feeding it to us at lunch. —Dade

I’m aware and concerned of the downed cows getting put in my peers’ and my own school lunch plate. And I am sending this letter because I am against this and believe this is wrong and gross. —Ariel

It is a disgusting feeling knowing that we are eating downed cows, so sick they can barely walk. —Jaycelin

While actively engaging caring kids in our work is crucial, The HSUS works just as hard to educate those young people who don’t know what it means to properly care for a pet, respect their wild neighbors, or extend compassion to animals used for food. Each month of the school year, our KIND News classroom newspaper is read in 35,000 classrooms nationwide. You can bring KIND News to your community by sponsoring the classroom of your choice through the Adopt-a-Classroom program. It’s a great way to pass on a humane ethic to tomorrow’s generation in your area while alerting them to the many ways they can make their voices heard, too.

February 26, 2008

Day to Spay

Today is Spay Day USA, and it's our biggest series of events and promotions urging people to spay and neuter pets as a means of reducing and eventually eliminating euthanasia of healthy and adoptable animals. This year's Spay Day—which is really spread over a month's time and is a product of our union with the Doris Day Animal League, which originally hatched the annual celebration and call to action—includes more than 500 gatherings, such as the “Love without Litters” discounted spay/neuter clinic in Oklahoma City, a mobile clinic in rural Texas that will provide 50 cat neuters for 50 cents each, and a number of international events, as well.

MUTTS Spay Day USA 2008 strip
MUTTS © 2008 Patrick McDonnell
Today's MUTTS strip and spay/neuter cause
gear
at Humane Domain honor Spay Day.

It is a tragedy that there are nearly 4 million dogs and cats killed in shelters each year. We can never be complacent about it, and that's what Spay Day USA is about.

I am in Los Angeles today and just appeared at a press conference with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, game show legend and renowned animal advocate Bob Barker, Los Angeles Animal Services General Manager Ed Boks, and others to announce the signing of a city ordinance promoting spaying and neutering. At the event, Los Angeles City Council members Richard Alarcón and Tony Cardenas—two outstanding leaders on humane issues—made powerful and compelling statements about the importance of Spay Day USA and the path-breaking nature of the ordinance that they shepherded through the Council and on to the Mayor's desk. They brought me back to the full meeting of the City Council, briefly interrupted the proceedings, and allowed me to address the Council and say a few words about Spay Day USA. They also presented me with a beautiful, framed proclamation endorsing Spay Day USA. It takes a wide range of strategies to combat needless euthanasia and ordinances that push people in the direction of spay and neuter as a responsible part of pet care are a component of the overall formula for success.

To join in the celebration, please do not forget about our Spay Day USA pet photo contest. The contest runs through next Friday, March 7, so you still have plenty of time to put your pet in the running for a studio session with a premier pet photographer, a custom painting, and many other great prizes. You can also donate a spay or neuter surgery to a dog or cat in need today. To do so, click here.

February 25, 2008

Condemned

The Wall Street Journal reports on its front page today that the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co., with annual revenues of about $100 million, is expected to permanently shut down as a result of the fallout from The HSUS investigation into the dairy cow slaughter plant's operations. "I don't see any way we can reopen," the company's general manager told the newspaper. USDA officials announced last Thursday that they will require Hallmark/Westland to pay for the costs associated with destroying and replacing meat sold to the USDA and funneled to states through the National School Lunch Program and other federal assistance programs.

Investigator observes abuse of downer cow at Hallmark
© The HSUS

It's been 26 days since The HSUS released disturbing footage of animal cruelty from a hidden camera investigation at the Chino-based company, and the statement by a high-ranking Hallmark/Westland official is just the latest thunderclap in the case. The footage of plant workers abusing animals too sick or injured to walk has caused outrage throughout the nation and spurred lawmakers and USDA officials to admit that there are dangerous deficiencies in the oversight of animal handling prior to slaughter.

In the last three weeks, the issue has drawn editorial comment from a large share of the nation's major newspapers. Today, The Arizona Republic said, "This is where animal cruelty and the threat to human health intersect." The Houston Chronicle observed yesterday, "If you can bear to watch it, the Humane Society's video shows as no words can how enmeshed the careful, humane treatment of animals is with the quality of the food they become." "The Humane Society's discovery of such appalling abuses, to which the plant's federal inspectors apparently were oblivious, is more evidence that the nation's food-safety system is in desperate need of an overhaul," wrote Ohio’s Columbus Dispatch in Sunday's paper.

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and dozens of other papers have written about the problems exposed by the investigation, and to varying degrees have expressed their disgust with Hallmark's conduct, have excoriated the USDA for the shortcomings in its oversight, and called on Congress to offer solutions. Some papers have focused on the need for an overhaul of our food safety system, arguing that this responsibility should not be housed within the USDA, but in a separate agency that can consolidate and better manage the function and do so without a conflict, since the USDA's primary mission is to promote American agriculture.

On Tuesday, Michael Greger, M.D., director of public health and animal agriculture at The HSUS, is set to testify before a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on the issue, and on Thursday, I am slated to testify before the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. We'll have a lot to say.

February 22, 2008

Smoke and Mirrors

Newly appointed Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer was just on his second day at the job when The HSUS released the results of our investigation into a southern California slaughter plant that had made its core business the slaughter of "spent" dairy cows. Obviously, any missteps from the USDA in its oversight of the Hallmark/Westland Meat Co. did not happen on his watch.

Yet, Schafer is aggressively defending his agency—and that's his right. But he's taken it a bit far. He has more than a couple of times taken aim at The HSUS on subjects related to the investigation. "For four months they [HSUS] sat on that information," he told CNN yesterday.

281x144_ca_downers_trailer2
© The HSUS
Evidence of criminal conduct was first provided to the local DA.

I had already sent the USDA a timeline of our investigation, and I am sorry that Secretary Schafer doesn't understand that while we launched the investigation four months ago, it was completed some time later. We are pretty darn thorough here at The HSUS and when the research was completed, the results organized, and all of the hidden camera video reviewed, we turned over the information to the San Bernardino District Attorney's office. We know violations of criminal statutes when we see them, and we turned the materials over to local authorities because the laws of California were breached. We knew that the San Bernardino County District Attorney is a strong law-and-order man, that he was not compromised by any association with the meat industry, and that he in the end would do the right thing.

Frankly, we did not turn to the USDA first because the agency has a history of canoodling with the industries it regulates. In fact, today The Press-Enterprise in Riverside, Calif. reported that our friends at the Inland Valley Humane Society and the SPCA, based in Pomona, had investigated downer cases at Hallmark more than a decade ago, and brought the information to the USDA's attention on at least three occasions. The result: no action from the USDA.

We didn't want to turn down a dead end with so much at stake.

Times change. Leaders change. We want to work with Secretary Schafer and with other leaders of the USDA and to be on good terms with them. If the USDA handles this case with the vigor it deserves, it can turn around its reputation of being too cozy with the companies it's supposed to regulate.

Talk Back: Systemic Cruelty

As reaction to The HSUS's investigation at Hallmark/Westland Meat Co. and news of the massive recall of beef from the plant continues to reverberate, readers continue to write in. Among the comments we received:

Thank you to The HSUS for all your hard work with the investigation of Hallmark. I am sickened to the very core. I don’t understand how heartless and cruel people can be. To torture an animal for our own greed is a disgrace to mankind as a whole. Thank you HSUS, I know these videos you tape must be difficult but it’s the only way to get the point across. People would not believe it unless they saw it with their own two eyes. You are awesome! All of you! Thanks for all you do! —Lisa White, Massachusetts

In a world where we often feel powerless to enact change, I am truly inspired by the Humane Society's efforts to bring the conditions at Hallmark to light. Hats off to activists everywhere!!! —Kath

I'd like to pass along a personal thank you to the brave souls doing your undercover work. What a horrible job, and how devastating for those doing it. Thank you for taking on such a huge burden for the benefit of all. Where would any of these animals be if you weren't brave enough to witness, document, and expose their terrible suffering? How else could we collectively call on the world’s better nature to acknowledge and stop the multiple forms of cruelty we carelessly inflict on other species? Bless each and every one of you for the compassionate work you do. Thank you so very, very much. —Leslie McLean (and Hank and Ol' Brown), Seattle, Wash.

I second (third, fourth, fifth) all the comments posted about the heroic nature of people who are willing to go in and document these types of abuses. SO important to put a “face” on these issues and to put it out there in the public, in the media, for all to see—the greatest path to change in my opinion. So many people I know are not even aware of these issues/abuses—once they are informed (and view), they are horrified and want to do something to create change. Heart wrenching enough to see in video and read about... in person, I can't even imagine. It is sick the way our society treats farm animals. These animals are sentient beings just as we are, and deserve respect and care. I applaud The HSUS and investigators for the work you do! Amazing! —Cari L.

I just made a contribution to Humane Society Undercover; it was a small amount but I'm a senior citizen living on a fixed income and sometimes it's very hard to stretch my dollars as far as I'd like to. I saw your investigation on the slaughterhouse and it broke my heart. As a little girl (that's many years ago) we had a cow that was so beautiful and she was like a pet to me. I cannot understand how anyone can be so mean as to treat any animal badly. Thank you so much for making this known to the public. —Wanda McMillion

Continue reading "Talk Back: Systemic Cruelty" »

February 21, 2008

Cycle of Violence

For humanitarians, the resurgence of dogfighting in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, which had suppressed such activities, was a terrible irony. Last Sunday, that irony gave way to tragedy as a suicide bomb attack took the lives of at least 80 people and an unspecified number of animals at a dogfighting event outside Kandahar. The target of the bomber was a local militia leader who opposed the Taliban.

Dogfighting has deep roots in the tradition of internecine conflict in Afghanistan. The country is a patchwork of rival tribes and ethnic groups mainly united by their distrust of central government, their hatred of foreigners, and the influence of Islam. The badal, or blood feud, is a way of life. Dogfighting fits right in.

In a country devastated by decades of war, poverty and suffering, and totalitarian religious rule, dogfighting has flourished as cheap amusement. It is of course more than that—disempowered people want a setting where they can exert control and dominance, and in this case they wield power over mighty and aggressive animals. And there is apparently some place dark in the human spirit that is titillated by the bloodletting produced by staged fights between animals. In this regard, the Afghans are hardly alone; staged fights between animals date back to the days of the Romans and Greeks, and dogfighting and cockfighting remain major worldwide industries throughout the New World and Old World, and even in the United States.

184x265_hsi_dog
© HSI

The leaders of the Taliban banned such activities, but not because they were concerned about the dogs. Rather, like the Puritans in 17th century England and the early American colonies, they wanted to stop people from enjoying themselves by engaging in any activities not focused on glorifying God the Almighty.

The tragic incident at Kandahar raises some paradoxical issues for those of us involved in the worldwide animal protection movement. None of us would welcome the Taliban back to power, even if it were to result in the end of dogfighting and other manifestations of cruelty to animals. At the same time, we don’t feel good about the renaissance of dogfighting in Afghanistan, and we don’t want to stay quiet about it.

Humane Society International has written to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to ask that the administration press Afghanistan’s government to discourage dogfighting, especially as a broadly approved public spectacle (you can see the letter here). We have advanced our position that such events are always accompanied not simply by cruelty to animals but by social degradation. Children, in particular, are desensitized by exposure to death-as-entertainment. And the presence of these public spectacles of cruelty does nothing to inspire American confidence in the people of Afghanistan or its government, at a time when American support can hardly be taken for granted.

In our work, we actively promote the proven connection between cruelty to animals and violence to people. At its core, ours is a movement that opposes violence to all sentient beings, and those of us in animal protection must continue to condemn ritualized violence in the strongest terms. This means condemning not only the suicide bombing in Afghanistan but also the organization of a public "entertainment" that involves dogfighting.

One of the reasons that the United States has a stake in Afghanistan is that the march of democracy and economic progress carries along with it codes of moral conduct, including an enhanced respect for others, including animals. One can hope that the ongoing effort of the Afghan government to raise standards of living and education will result in more progress in the arena of animal welfare. Humane Society International has worked with several Afghan animal welfare groups in recent years, and we have real hope that pet keeping, a proven pathway to broader concern about animals, will gain a greater foothold in the country and nourish a broader ethic toward animals.

If the truth be acknowledged, there is little that Americans can do to stop dogfighting in a distant and troubled land where it remains so culturally entrenched and where there are few local countervailing forces. But it should give us all the more reason to put our own house in order by rooting out dogfighting and other cruel pursuits in our nation. America should be a beacon of moral thought and action, and when we hold ourselves to rigorous moral standards, we can convey these ideas to others with greater moral authority.

February 20, 2008

Constant Against Cruelty

Your HSUS is big enough and strong enough to carry on the fight on multiple fields of battle. 

We are still immersed in the follow-up to the hidden camera investigation that exposed appalling abuses of downed cows, the slaughter plant's gross disregard for the law, and the gaps in the regulatory program at slaughter plants. Yesterday, I participated in a press conference about the controversy with U.S. Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), chairwoman of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. They announced a series of congressional hearings on the subject of animal welfare and food safety, along with an investigation by the Government Accountability Office (you can listen to the press conference here). The issue continues to be covered by press all over the nation and the world, with some of the most interesting stories in the last day or two, including pieces in the Los Angeles Times and Inland Valley Daily Bulletin that focus on what our investigator endured during his six-week undercover operation.

And while many of our staff are pushing this case forward (with legal action, congressional and state legislative responses, ongoing investigations, public exposure, and the like), we are battling on other fronts, too.

Yesterday, our animal fighting unit worked with the Humane Society of Southern Arizona (HSSA) and the Pima County Sheriff's Department (PCSD) in southern Arizona to execute a major raid on kingpins in the dogfighting world. We gathered intelligence over the last six months and provided it to local authorities who take their charge seriously to enforce anti-cruelty laws. Raids were conducted yesterday at multiple dwellings and six people are now in custody, including Mahlon "Pat" Patrick, reputed to be one of the top dogfighting breeders in the nation. Thus far, 150 pit bulls have been seized. We offer thanks to our partners—HSSA and PCSD—on this successful series of raids.

I say with pride again that our investigators are doing stellar work. Thanks to our policy work, the law is increasingly on our side, and we aim to see the laws enforced. Animal abusers—whether they are reckless slaughterhouse workers, or dogfighters, or puppy millers—will meet an unrelenting force in The HSUS and will gain no respite from us.

February 19, 2008

Recall Recoil

It was President's Day yesterday. But from my perspective, it was also a day of false assurances.

Video of HSUS investigation into cattle abuse at California slaughter plant
See the undercover video that led to the recall.

Arguably the top story across the country for the last two days has been the nation's largest ever recall of beef, prompted by The HSUS’s long-term undercover investigation at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Co. in Chino, Calif. A hidden camera investigation at the plant exposed downed dairy cows being struck with paddles, extensively prodded with electric shocks to the eyes and other highly sensitive areas, rammed with forklifts, and abused in other deplorable ways in order to get these animals to stand. The poor cows were bellowing in response to these assaults, but their cries generated not a hint of mercy from their abusers. They wanted to squeeze every last dime out of these ailing dairy cows, and they were ruthless in subjecting these creatures to an astonishing array of tools of torment.

The HSUS has been telling the story to America, with me and several other spokespersons appearing on many of the major media outlets. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association have been offering their own perspectives and also talking to the American people. There's no denying the cruelty, and spokespersons from the federal government and the Cattlemen's Association concur that the inhumane treatment of these “spent” dairy cows was unacceptable. Good for them, and let's hope that the USDA continues with a vigorous investigation and has more news for us. We at The HSUS are particularly pleased that the new Agriculture Secretary called in the USDA's Office of Inspector General—the agency's semi-independent law enforcement arm—to investigate, since it has been a powerful and positive force on a number of animal protection issues.

But what I can't agree with are the claims by the USDA and the Cattlemen's Association that this plant represents an isolated case and all else is well with the regulation of slaughter plants in America. In an interview with PBS yesterday, the USDA's Kenneth Petersen said the incident is "an aberration," while a Cattlemen's Association representative told the Associated Press that most cattle bound for slaughter are treated humanely and the documented abuse is "something we don't condone and don't tolerate."

Now, I presume that if the Cattlemen's Association knew about the abuses at the Chino plant, it would have spoken up about it. Right? But the leaders of the group didn't speak out, so we must assume they had no knowledge of what was occurring.

If they did not know what was happening at that plant, they probably also don't know what's happening at the 900 other cattle slaughter plants in the United States. Their statement that this is an isolated case is a statement of faith, not fact.

The USDA has been trotting out the same line of argument. But let's concede two related points: First, the abuses at the Chino plant would not have come to light without the undercover operation by The HSUS. And second, these abuses occurred, as U.S. Rep. George Miller told USA Today, "right under the USDA's nose." In fact, the USDA honored this company as its 2004-05 Supplier of the Year to the National School Lunch Program.

If the USDA could not see abuses occurring at a plant where it had its full force of inspectors, how can it assure us that these terrible abuses are not happening elsewhere?

What we do know is that in the limited number of slaughter plant investigations conducted by The HSUS, PETA, Farm Sanctuary, Humane Farming Association, Compassion Over Killing, Mercy for Animals, and other animal protection groups, we see time and again that there have been gross abuses. PETA found workers slamming chickens against the walls of a slaughter plant. Other groups found animals being dismembered alive.

In 2006, the USDA’s own Office of Inspector General found that downers were getting into the food supply. In one case in Iowa, a USDA inquiry found that inspectors were sleeping and playing computer games on the job, while cows were being abused. This past week, Tyson fired several plant employees who were implicated in a chicken abuse scandal. Are these all also isolated incidents?

So let's leave the false assurances aside. We'd be grateful just to have the federal government do its job, and for the Cattlemen's Association and other industry groups to hold its colleagues to a basic standard of decency and begin to police its ranks. Their spin may make a few people dizzy, but I find it hollow and entirely unconvincing.