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Video Reveals Violations of Laws, Abuse of Cows at Slaughterhouse

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By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Video footage being released today shows workers at a California slaughterhouse delivering repeated electric shocks to cows too sick or weak to stand on their own; drivers using forklifts to roll the "downer" cows on the ground in efforts to get them to stand up for inspection; and even a veterinary version of waterboarding in which high-intensity water sprays are shot up animals' noses -- all violations of state and federal laws designed to prevent animal cruelty and to keep unhealthy animals, such as those with mad cow disease, out of the food supply.

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Moreover, the companies where these practices allegedly occurred are major suppliers of meat for the nation's school lunch programs, including in Maryland, according to a company official and federal documents.

The footage was taken by an undercover investigator for an animal welfare group, who wore a customized video camera under his clothes while working at the facility last year. [ Warning - Graphic Video: View the video on the Humane Society Web site ] It is evidence that anti-cruelty and food safety rules are inadequate, and that Agriculture Department inspection and enforcement need to be enhanced, said officials with the Humane Society of the United States, which coordinated the project.

"These were not rogue employees secretly doing these things," the investigator said in a telephone interview on the condition of anonymity because he hopes to infiltrate other slaughterhouses. "This is the pen manager and his assistant doing this right in the open."

The investigator and Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society, said the footage was taken at Hallmark Meat Packing in Chino, Calif. Hallmark sells meat for processing to Westland Meat Co. in Chino, according to Westland President Steve Mendell, who is also Hallmark's operations manager.

Over the past five years, Westland has sold about 100 million pounds of frozen beef, valued at $146 million, to the Agriculture Department's commodities program, which supplies food for school lunches and programs for the needy, according to federal documents.

In the 2004-05 school year, the Agriculture Department honored Westland with its Supplier of the Year award for the National School Lunch Program.

In an interview, Mendell expressed disbelief that employees used stun guns to get sick or injured animals on their feet for inspection.

"That's impossible," he said, adding that "electrical prods are not allowed on the property."

Asked whether his employees use fork lifts to get moribund animals off the ground, he said: "I can't imagine that."

Asked whether water was sprayed up animals' noses to get them to stand up, he said: "That's absolutely not true."

"We have a massive humane treatment program here that we follow to the n{+t}{+h} degree, so this doesn't even sound possible," Mendell said. "I don't stand out there all day, but to me it would be next to impossible."


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