Video of workers abusing cows raises food safety questions

Categories: Health

WASHINGTON (CNN) — A video showing California slaughterhouse workers abusing dairy cows — a violation that raises questions about U.S. food safety — was released by the Humane Society of the United States on Wednesday.

The video, which one lawmaker said raises questions about the safety of the nation’s food supply, shows Hallmark Meat Packing Co. workers administering repeated electric shocks to the downed cows — animals that are too sick, weak or otherwise unable to stand on their own. Workers are seen kicking cows, jabbing them near their eyes, ramming them with a forklift and shooting high-intensity water up their noses in an effort to force them to their feet for slaughter.

The society says the video was shot last year by an undercover investigator who wore a hidden camera under his clothes when he worked at the facility.

Hallmark Meat Packing Co., based in Chino, California, sells beef to its sister company, Westland Meat, which distributes it to various federal programs, including the National School Lunch Program. VideoWatch the video of cows being abused »

Downed cows are more easily contaminated and may carry diseases harmful to consumers. U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations prohibit allowing disabled or contaminated animals into the food supply. Officials said they would investigate.

“This must serve as a five-alarm call to action for Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” said Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society president. “Our government simply must act quickly both to guarantee the most basic level of humane treatment for farm animals and to protect America’s most vulnerable people — our children, needy families and the elderly — from the potentially dangerous food.”

The Associated Press reported that the Agriculture Department is investigating the possible violation of state and federal laws at the slaughterhouse. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said “appropriate actions will be taken” if violations are found in the facility, and added there is no evidence the nation’s beef supply is at risk.

“There is no immediate health risk that we are aware of,” he said.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, sent letters Wednesday to the agriculture secretary and the head of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) asking for an immediate investigation into the safety of ground beef being used in the National School Lunch Program.

“The treatment of animals in this video is appalling, but more than that, it raises significant concerns about the safety of the food being served to our nation’s children,” Durbin said. “The apparent slaughter of sick and weak animals not only appears to violate USDA regulations, but could be a danger to our nation’s food supply.”

He called on the USDA to investigate and urged FSIS to act immediately “to review the safety of the food being used in the school lunch program.”

Westland, the second-largest supplier of beef for the National School Lunch Program, was named “supplier of the year” in 2004-2005 by the Agriculture Department. It has delivered beef to schools in 36 states.

In a written statement, Steve Mendell, president of both Westland and Hallmark, said the company has terminated the two employees in the video and suspended their supervisor.

“We are shocked, saddened and sickened by what we have seen today. Operations have been immediately suspended until we can meet with all our employees and be assured these sorts of activities never again happen at our facility,” he said.

The statement did not address whether meat from the sick cows in the video ever entered the food supply.

The USDA, in its news release, said it was “unfortunate” the Humane Society “did not present this information to use when these alleged violations occurred in the fall of 2007.”

The Humane Society, in its statement, said it had turned the information over to “California law enforcement officials” at that time, and “local authorities asked for extra time before public release of the information.”
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