Meat Company Fires 2 Over Cruelty to Livestock

By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 31, 2008

A California slaughterhouse yesterday fired two employees, and the Agriculture Department opened a formal investigation following revelations that the plant used inhumane and what appear to be illegal methods to get sick and hobbled cows past federal inspectors.

The abuse, shown in videotapes shot with a concealed camera by an employee who was working undercover for the Humane Society of the United States, included zealous use of electric prods to get ailing animals on their feet; chains to drag live cows down a ramp toward the killing room; and repeated jabs with the prongs of a forklift, which was also used to roll ailing animals along the ground.

Federal and California laws ban inhumane treatment of animals and generally do not allow them to be slaughtered for food if they cannot stand. Such animals are at heightened risk for infections from E. coli, salmonella and the agent that causes mad cow disease, which can also cause a brain disease in people.

The operation in question, Hallmark Meat Packing, is the slaughterhouse partner of Westland Meat Co. of Chino, which has been a major supplier of beef to the federal school lunch program -- a fact that inspired several members of Congress yesterday to demand state and federal investigations.

Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer yesterday suspended indefinitely Westland's participation in the lunch program and placed a hold on all Westland products destined for any federal food programs.

Steve Mendell, president of Westland, commented on the videotape in a statement yesterday: "We are shocked, saddened and sickened by what we have seen today. Operations have been immediately suspended until we can meet with all of our employees and be assured these sorts of activities never again happen at our facility."

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