Three Strikes and Downers Should be Out

By on June 25, 2008 with 0 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Today was an especially remarkable day at The HSUS—and it shows how we put your support to work for animals in rather remarkable ways. We had FOUR press conferences on major issues throughout the nation and a full complement of press in attendance at every event. In Tennessee, we had a press conference after The HSUS and law enforcement raided a massive puppy mill at 7 a.m. in Hickman County and confiscated 700 dogs (I’ll provide a full report on this very significant action tomorrow). In Kansas, HSUS and law enforcement officials raided a major cockfighting operation in Johnson County and confiscated 180 fighting roosters. In Colorado, we had a press conference with state Attorney General John Suthers to announce our reward program for animal fighting. And in Washington, D.C., we released the results of our third major investigation of the year into the trade and abuse of downed dairy cattle.

184x164_downer_auc_vid Today’s press conference at our headquarters in Washington, D.C. about the mistreatment of cattle was one I wish we did not have to conduct. After the Hallmark undercover investigation—exposing the abuse of downer cows at a southern California slaughter plant—everyone in the livestock industry should have been on notice to clean up their act, especially after the investigation triggered the nation’s largest ever meat recall. When we released a second investigation that documented abuses at livestock auctions in four states, we showed that the abuses we uncovered at Hallmark were not isolated cases. You would have thought the second investigation would have jarred auction managers and personnel to stop accepting and abusing downer cows. But that hope of mine has proved too optimistic. We uncovered more abuses, along with more excuses and false assurances.

The HSUS’s third undercover investigation focused on the Portales Livestock Auction in New Mexico. As with Hallmark, sick and crippled dairy cows were battered in a variety of ways, including the use of electricity and heavy machinery to get the ailing animals on their feet and into the auction pen. Our investigator said he saw at least three downer cows who were actually sold and sent off to the next stop in the food production process. A fair number of the animals sold at Portales are then sold to Caviness, a slaughter plant in west Texas (Portales had been sending some of its spent dairy cows to Hallmark before that plant was shut down). Caviness does the slaughtering, and a processing facility called Palo Duro readies the meat for human consumption. Palo Duro is now the largest supplier to the National School Lunch Program.

These systemic and widespread abuses have to stop, and it’s time for the industry and the government to take action. It’s been nearly five months since we released the results of our Hallmark investigation, and USDA has still not closed the loophole in the federal rule relating to the slaughter of non-ambulatory cattle. Today, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer called upon the industry to voluntarily adhere to a ban until the USDA rule is made final. That’s a good step, and a fair number of major players in industry have agreed, but that’s not enough. Secretary Schafer has taken our investigations with the seriousness they deserve and has been highly attentive to animal welfare issues, but it’s now past time for USDA to take immediate action and close the loophole. The industry is not cleaning up the problem on its own, and we can wait no longer. And there’s no reason for Congress to be a bystander. Several members of Congress, including House Agriculture Appropriations Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D.-Conn.) and Senator Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), issued statements condemning the abuse of downers and USDA inaction, but it is time for the entire Congress to pass comprehensive legislation to ban the movement of downers at slaughterhouses or auctions.

See our video to get a complete picture of what’s happening in the livestock industry. It’s not pretty, but it’s a necessary antecedent to policy action.

Farm Animals

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