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Video Reveals Violations of Laws, Abuse of Cows at Slaughterhouse

California law and USDA regulations do not allow disabled animals to be dragged by chains, lifted with forklifts, or, with few exceptions, to enter the food supply, all of which happened at Hallmark during the investigator's time there last fall, he said.

Video images show those activities, as well as a trailer with Hallmark's name on it.

One reason that regulations call for keeping downers -- cows that cannot stand up -- out of the food supply is that they may harbor bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease. It is caused by a virus-like infectious particle that can cause a fatal brain disease in people.

Another is because such animals have, in many cases, been wallowing in feces, posing added risks of E. coli and salmonella contamination.

The Humane Society and other groups have for years urged Congress to pass legislation that would tighten oversight at slaughterhouses.

Kenneth Petersen, assistant administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service's Office of Field Operations, whose 7,600 inspectors monitor the nation's 6,200 slaughterhouses and meat-processing plants for the Agriculture Department, said he had not seen the video. He added that he would have preferred that the Humane Society contacted the agency directly.

But he said use of a Hot Shot -- a brand-name electric device used to get dawdling cows to move along -- is "not allowed" as a means of getting a downer on its feet.

In the video, handlers repeatedly apply powerful shocks to the heads, necks, spines and rectums of immobile cows.

"That's certainly not a way to have them stand up or a correct way to move them," Petersen said.

Raising a cow on the prongs of a forklift is also not allowed, he said.

"We've made it clear that mechanical means to try to elevate an animal is not considered humane," Petersen said.

If he had evidence that the practices in the video were going on at a slaughterhouse, "I would immediately suspend them as an establishment," he said. "You're done. You're suspended. Everything stops. That's what we call an egregiously inhumane handling violation."

Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and an expert in slaughter practices, called the Humane Society footage "one of the worst animal-abuse videos I have ever viewed."

The investigator said a USDA inspector appeared twice a day, at 6:30 a.m. and about 12:30 p.m., to look at each cow to be slaughtered that day. The practices occurred before the inspector's appearance, he said, with the goal of getting the animals on their feet for the short time the inspector was there.

"Every day, I would see downed cattle too sick or injured to stand or walk arriving at the slaughterhouse," he said. "Workers would do anything to get the cows to stand on their feet."

USDA regulations say that if an animal goes down after it is inspected but before it is slaughtered, then it must be reinspected. But that rarely, if ever, happened, according to the Humane Society.

"They wanted to do whatever they could to get them into the kill box, including jabbing them in the eye, slamming into them with a forklift and simulating drowning or waterboarding the animals," Pacelle said -- all practices that can be seen in the video.

Mad cow disease is extremely rare in the United States, but of the 15 cases documented in North America -- most of them in Canada -- the vast majority have been traced to downer cattle. When the United States had its first case a few years ago, 44 nations closed their borders to U.S. beef, Pacelle said, costing the nation billions of dollars.

To sneak downers past inspectors, Pacelle said, is "penny-wise and pound-foolish."

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