Shaking Up the Food Chain

By on February 12, 2008 with 0 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Safeway, the nation’s third largest supermarket, announced yesterday a series of meaningful animal welfare reforms relating to the treatment of chickens and pigs raised for eggs and meat sold at its 1,700 or so stores. The HSUS has been in discussions with Safeway for months, and based on the company’s announced commitments on animal welfare, we have withdrawn a resolution we planned to submit to shareholders for consideration at their next meeting.

© iStockphoto

Safeway is just the latest food retailer to give a nod to animal welfare. Whole Foods, Wolfgang Puck, Burger King, Compass Group, and a laundry list of others have, to varying degrees, instituted animal welfare reforms in recent years—with many of them responding to HSUS entreaties for action. It’s an ascendant trend, and we hope there’s much more to report to you on this front in the months and years to come.

Retailers have enormous power over producers, transporters, and slaughtering operations. If they demand new welfare standards, the producers and processors will adjust. U.S. farmers are innovators, and they just need a signal or directive from the marketplace. We’ve seen that time and again.

After we released the results of our investigation at Hallmark Meat Co., two major fast-food chains terminated their relationships with the company. Our investigation documented downer cows being shocked, struck with wooden paddles in the face, rammed or run over with forklifts, and blasted in the nostrils and mouth with water from a high pressure hose to simulate drowning—all done to get these sick or injured animals to stand to get them to slaughter for human consumption.

The behavior caught on tape and subsequently broadcast to millions of Americans has rightly earned widespread condemnation, even from many leaders and trade press within the animal agribusiness industry. Unfortunately, some players in industry, and even the new USDA Agriculture Secretary himself, also saw fit to criticize The HSUS, claiming that we did not release the results immediately to federal authorities. In a blog last week, I wrote about the timeline for the investigation. The HSUS is the last entity that would ever want to sit on the results; we had no incentive to do so. We were methodical in how we handled the investigation, and how we publicized it, too. The national furor that erupted once we publicly released the information shows we handled the job thoroughly and effectively.

Downed cow pulled at Hallmark Meat Packing
© The HSUS
A worker pulls a downed cow at Hallmark Meat Packing.

In addition, some at the USDA continue to repeat the claim that it has not seen any evidence of downed cows going to slaughter for human consumption. But we have indeed provided incontrovertible evidence to the USDA to show that that’s exactly what happened. And let’s face it, the managers and employees at Hallmark would not have relied on so many means of tormenting the cows if they weren’t intent on getting downers into the slaughter plant. They wanted to convert every cow into cash.

And frankly, this isn’t the first time that slaughtering of downed animals for human consumption has recently come to light. The USDA’s own Inspector General did a report in January 2006 revealing that USDA inspectors were allowing some downers to be slaughtered, in violation of the agency’s own rules banning that practice.

It’s not up to The HSUS to do the USDA’s job, but it is our job to watch over the USDA if it is not handling its responsibilities properly. The USDA gets millions of dollars in taxpayer funds from Congress and the American people every year to inspect the plants and enforce the law. It’s a tough job to be sure, but the USDA should focus on investigating this plant and, in a larger sense, correcting its own procedures and policies that allowed these atrocious practices to occur—on the USDA’s watch, I might add.

Farm Animals

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