In early 2008, The Humane Society of the United States released an investigation showing appalling and unacceptable treatment of dairy cows too sick or injured to walk at the Hallmark/Westland slaughter plant in Chino, Calif. The case set off riots in South Korea (the number-two importer of U.S. beef), prompted the largest meat recall in American history, and shook public confidence in the claims by agribusiness that Proposition 2 was unneeded because producers would never mistreat animals. (That ballot measure asked voters in 2008 to ban cramped cages and other confinement methods.)
Our investigation of a California slaughter plant in 2008.
The investigation also prompted California lawmakers to pass a new anti-downer law, which was then challenged by the pork industry on the grounds that only the federal government could regulate slaughter practices. That case ultimately went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which struck down portions of the law.
Despite that setback, the Hallmark investigation has proved to be a watershed, creating massive awareness of cruelty to farm animals, propelling the enactment of new laws to protect them, and providing a window into the harsh and unforgiving behavior of some in industrial agriculture.
There have been a few seminal cases of animals in situations of cruelty or crisis that have touched the American conscience and provided a wake-up call. The rescue of stranded pets in the wake of Katrina spoke to the power of the human-animal bond in a time of distress. The Michael Vick case reminded people that dogfighting was not a settled issue and that cruelty can happen in the most unlikely places.
For its part, Hallmark provided a front-row seat into the realities of industrial agriculture.
It’s a case that many Americans are still paying attention to. Millions saw the footage on television, and The HSUS has just passed a milestone with the one millionth view on YouTube of our investigative video. That’s a landmark in its own right.
There are other ways in which the case lives on. There are ongoing court proceedings relating to the filing by The HSUS of a groundbreaking multimillion-dollar government fraud case under the False Claims Act against the plant owners and investors who enabled and made possible the horrific cruelty we documented. The lawsuit, which is the first of its kind, alleges that Westland/Hallmark defrauded the federal government by violating the terms of its school lunch program contracts requiring the humane handling of animals. And in a rare move, the Department of Justice elected to intervene in the case and join The HSUS in seeking to recover millions in taxpayer money spent on potentially tainted ground beef during the period covered by the recall.
We’ve come a long way since early 2008, both for downed cattle and other farm animals. In the broadest sense, we’ll continue to throw back the curtain on animal abuse in all of its forms, and we’ll not turn away from even the biggest problems or the most powerful industries that defend callous mistreatment of other creatures.
P.S. This is the third HSUS-sponsored video to reach the 1 million mark. I wrote previously about the story of Stallone, the true face of dogfighting, and the "Sand Box" PSA, part of our Shelter Pet Project campaign with the Ad Council and Maddie's Fund.