System Failure

By on March 13, 2008 with 0 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Yesterday, Steve Mendell, the chief executive at Hallmark/Westland Meat Co., appeared before the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.). Mendell declined the committee’s first request to testify, and appeared at this second hearing after receiving a subpoena from the committee.

In his written testimony, Mendell admitted that terrible animal cruelty occurred at his plant—and that it took The HSUS to uncover it. But he also wrote that no downer cows got into the food supply.

Downed cow at Hallmark/Westland
© The HSUS
HSUS video footage played a fundamental role in the hearing.

Chairman Stupak would have none of his denials. He directed committee staff to play two HSUS videos on the large screens at the hearing and asked Mendell, and the rest of the crowd, to watch. What followed were 10 minutes of hushed silence as the legislators, attendees and Mr. Mendell watched appalling animal abuse. Mendell had not taken the time to view the second video, even though it had been on our website for weeks.

After watching the videos, Mendell was forced to concede that his claims in his written testimony were false.

Mendell also claimed that the workers at the plant were required to do "extensive" training on humane handling. This was another Mendell obfuscation.

Our investigator received no legitimate training. The most extensive "training" he received was actually some coaching that workers lay down their tools of torment during the period when third-party auditors were coming to the plant the next day.

With training like this, God help the poor animals. This "training"—once the auditors completed their white-glove tour—did absolutely no good for the hapless animals.

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.

As addendums to his written testimony, Mendell presented two recent third-party audit reports, and Hallmark not surprisingly passed with flying colors. Again, based on The HSUS’s investigation—which everyone now concedes uncovered gross abuses of animals and the illegal slaughter of downer cows—these audits have as much value as the paper they are printed on.

So, here we have five USDA inspectors who found no problems. An "extensive" training program that did not stop some of the worst cruelties at a slaughter plant that this nation has ever seen. And third-party audits—from established firms in the field of slaughter plant auditing—that did nothing to sniff out abuses of power and animals or disrespect and disdain for the law.

The abuses at the plant only came to an end because of the HSUS investigation. The question now is, how many other plants with the same sort of USDA inspections, internal training, and outside audits have the same nonsense going on? If the hollow controls exhibited at Hallmark are an indicator of what’s going on in the industry—and after all, it is the very same U.S. Department of Agriculture and the same auditing companies at work at slaughter plants throughout the nation—nobody can say for sure.

Farm Animals

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