Any large advocacy organization with an agenda encompassing a variety of cutting edge social issues is bound to become a target for criticism, and The HSUS is no exception. As the nation’s most effective animal protection organization, we challenge long-standing forms of institutional cruelty across a wide range of animal-related interests from factory farms to puppy mills, from wildlife abuses to staged animal fights. At times, criticism is based on legitimate differences in approach or philosophy. At others it is based on false accusations and deliberate distortions. We always try to respond, as in this recent letter I wrote for cattlenetwork.com, challenging an editorial written by the Agribusiness Freedom Foundation (AFF) about our ongoing investigation of cruelty at slaughter plants and cattle auctions.
An AFF editorial charged that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) implied that Caviness, a meat packing plant in Hereford, Tex., slaughtered downer cows and "violated national school lunch meat supply rules apparently just because the packer sometimes bought cattle at an auction market at which an alleged HSUS video showed downer cattle being mistreated." While many readers of this website may not agree with all of HSUS’s positions—though I am sure they would sympathize with much of our work, including our efforts to combat malicious animal cruelty, dog fighting, puppy mills, the abuse of downer cows, and the like—this editorial is way off the mark and I must correct the record.
The core claim made in the editorial is demonstrably false. When HSUS released its latest investigation into the abuse of downer cows at the Portales Livestock Auction, we did not indicate that Caviness had slaughtered downer cows, nor did we suggest that these downer cows got into the food supply. I specifically and unambiguously said that our investigation did not track the cows once they left Portales, and that we had no knowledge of what happened to the downer cows that had been sold at auction.
Prior to going public with our latest investigative results, I shared all of the information with Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer and with leaders of more than a dozen major animal agriculture organizations, including the National Meat Association (NMA), American Meat Institute (AMI), National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), National Milk Producers’ Federation (NMPF), and others.
After the meeting, NMA wrote me a letter in advance of our press conference and said it didn’t want us to mention Caviness by name at the forthcoming press conference. While I assured NMA that I would emphatically state that we had no evidence Caviness slaughtered downers, I did not promise to omit any mention of the packer. Our investigation revealed that Caviness was the single largest purchaser of dairy cows from Portales, and Portales had been a major supplier of spent dairy cows who went to the Hallmark/Westland plant in Chino. It was the slaughtering of downer cows at Hallmark that resulted in the shut-down of the Hallmark plant and the massive meat recall in February.
I personally don’t think Caviness should have been dealing with Portales, given the auction site’s obvious deficiencies in humane handling. Caviness ultimately came to the same conclusion that I did, suspending its dealings with Portales after our investigation came to light.
There are certain folks within industry that simply dislike HSUS and attack it rather than examine the problems HSUS has brought to light. The fact is, HSUS investigators have uncovered appalling abuses at all six locations we have investigated so far this year—the Hallmark slaughter plant in Chino, Calif. and five livestock auctions in four states. Lightning shouldn’t strike six times, and it’s time for the industry to acknowledge there’s a problem, particularly with the humane handling of spent dairy cows.
I believe the industry should condemn the abuses we have uncovered and take remedial action. And it should stop sniping at HSUS over the timing of our release of our investigations and whether or not we mention a packer that dealt with an auction we investigated. The latter are peripheral issues, and the crux of the issue is that the most basic humane handling standards are being violated wherever we look.
I’ll continue to acknowledge progressive action by folks within the industry. I applaud AMI, NMA, and NMPF for endorsing a strong downer cattle ban. And some state groups, like the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, are standing particularly tall on this issue. It’s time for the industry to stop micro-analyzing HSUS’s actions and start holding outliers within the industry accountable.
HSUS and the industry will agree to disagree on some issues, but when it comes to the gross abuse of dairy cows at auctions and slaughter plants, we can all agree there’s serious need for improvement.