USDA Stops Production At Meatpacking Facility After Undercover Video Showed Sick Cows Being Abused

So-called “downer” cows that are too ill to walk are not allowed into the food supply due to a higher instance of bovine spongiform encephalopathy ( mad cow disease)—which is why an undercover video taken by animal rights activists is causing a stir at the USDA.

The video shows cows that are too sick to walk being lifted and prodded with forklifts in order to get them to move into the slaughter box. Although the USDA says it doesn’t have proof that the sick cows entered the food supply, just the simple fact that workers were hitting sick cows with forklifts while 8 USDA inspectors looked the other way was enough to prompt the agency to shut down the company.

From the LA Times:

Cliver, professor emeritus of food safety at UC Davis, said the suspension of the plant is “long past due.”

“It’s a shame when USDA has to read about this stuff in the newspaper before they take action,” he said. Cliver said he was especially shocked by the news, because as someone who has worked on food safety for 45 years, he believed in the federal inspection process. “That the most intensive inspection system we have was asleep on this situation bothers me enormously,” he said.

One retired food inspector, who once worked at Hallmark, said the USDA supervisor in charge of the plant had to have been aware of the practices shown in the Humane Society’s video.

“The supervisor should have known what was going on,” said Paul Carney, western council president for the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals, the USDA inspectors’ union.

Bill Bullard, chief executive of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, an advocacy organization that represents cattle-raising farmers and ranchers, was also critical of the USDA’s lax enforcement.

“We would hope that this example will impress upon the USDA the need to bolster its inspection processes to enforce the current law that prohibits downer animals in the human food supply,” Bullard said.

USDA’s oversight of meat safety criticized [LA Times]

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. Anonymous says:

    MY biggest struggle in life is with myself. The thought of treating any animal like this upsets me to my core…I find it discusting, ignorant and almost unbeliable that some people are able to do it. But at the same time I can’t seem to give up meat and become a vegitarian. Someone help me!

    • Wang_Chung_Tonight says:

      @melanie.dawn:
      is it the eating of animals that you abhor or the treatment in the preparation of these animals? I agree with hunting and eatin meat but, like you, I disagree with the ways companies have commercialized it.

  2. kimsama says:

    The extra awesome part is that that particular meat packing company supplies meat to federal programs, including the National School Lunch Program.

  3. kimsama says:

    @melanie.dawn: Eat free-range. That’s what I do. They get to live an animally life and frolic outdoors, then we eat them.

  4. ZekeSulastin says:

    @melanie.dawn: In that case, do research and find a meat company that treats the animals humanely, and show them their efforts are appreciated by buying from them.

  5. beavis88 says:

    @melanie.dawn: It is possible to eat meat that has been treated humanely in both life and death. It probably does not involve buying your meat from most mass market sources, however. The only thing that matters in our capitalistic society is money, so vote with yours (and tell your friends to do the same). No buyers = no money to hire assholes who abuse sick animals. It’s certainly going to be more effective than waiting for our joke of a federal government to do something about it.

  6. ClayS says:

    @kimsama:

    The issue in this case is not how the animals live, but rather how they die. The people that are employed in the slaughter of animals should have some degree of respect for life, not sadistic disregard.

  7. UpsetPanda says:

    @melanie.dawn: Seriously, being ethical doesn’t go hand in hand with being a vegetarian. Don’t let people make you think that you can only be ethical by completely converting to plants. Like ZekeSulastin said, find a company that treats its animals well. The fact that animals become food doesn’t mean they should suffer. I am all for companies who are humane to animals, but I personally also do not see a compelling (ethical) argument for converting to vegetarianism, when I can find a company that does treat animals well.

  8. savvy999 says:

    But the USDA hasn’t fired its own ‘supervisors’ that didn’t do their job in the first place? Awesome oversight, guys!

    The perpetual question of our society– who watches those who are charged to watch over us? Obviously, the media and special interest groups have a rightful place here.

  9. kimsama says:

    @ClayS: Yes, ok…the issue with that being that the USDA requirements of slaughterhouses makes small, humane slaughterhouses impossible, and obviously they’re great at enforcing their regulations for “humane slaughter” at the big slaughterhouses. So you may not really know whether the cow you’re buying was humanely slaughtered, but you can at least buy a free-range cow and know it had a good life, and hope that the USDA was paying attention and not allowing animal torture at the particular slaughterhouse the meat was processed in. Or you could kill it yourself, I guess (or maybe patronize a halal or kosher slaughterhouse/butcher?)

  10. passionflower says:

    @ClayS: I can’t remember where I read this (maybe in The Omnivore’s Dilemma) but I’ve heard that abuse of animals in meatpacking plants may stem from the generally horrific working conditions. It’s very hard work in a fast-moving assembly line, the risk of injury is extremely high, and the people who work there are treated horribly themselves. (I’ve also heard that the turnover rate in meatpacking plants is close to 100%. That should tell you something!) Under those conditions workers become more sadistic. It seems to me that safer working conditions in meatpacking plants would benefit everyone: workers, animals and consumers.

  11. meeroom says:

    I buy Laura’s Lean Beef, and Bell and Evans Chicken. They are a lot more expensive but I feel much better about buying/eating meat. I figure if those brands are successful, then it might help more companies be more ethical in their animal raising. But I feel like a small voice in a crowd of Wal-Mart shoppers who value price over everything, including ethics.

  12. @melanie.dawn: This morning I listened to an NPR podcast, which was an interview with the author of a new book called “In Defense of Food”. He also wrote “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”.
    You may find the answers to your dilemma by giving it a listen. It was a fascinating interview.
    [www.npr.org]

    (the full interview is down the page just a bit. The short version is at the top)

  13. alilz says:

    Melanie, you don’t have to be a vegetarian to make compassionate choices. However, if you think you want to try being a vegetarian but are worried about not being able to give up meat I can offer some tips because I was in that situation. First you don’t have to give up all meat right away or do anything in a particular order. You can just cut down on how much meat you eat or if you cook, buy a good vegetarian cookbook and try some recipes. I did it gradually — first I stopped cooking meat at home but still brought in pre cooked stuff and frozen dinners and ate meat out. Then I stopped eating meat at home, and when i got used to that I stopped eating meat out. I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 2 years and I’ve slipped and eaten meat a few times but it’s been almost 8 mths since the last “slip”. I don’t beat myself up.

    Not advocating you become vegetarian, that’s a personal choice, but there are lots of ways to go about it.

  14. jomil91 says:

    ugh… no wonder all this shyt thats going to happen soon (global warming, end of the world, etc) to us human, shyt, karma is going hit us hard for stuff like this.

    • kabuk1 says:

      @jomil91:

      Good call! I’ve always believed that all the natural disasters & stuff like that are the earth hitting back at us the only way it can. It may sound harsh but I honestly don’t shed one tear when I hear about mudslides, hurricanes, or earthquakes. I just think to myself- good! a few less selfish, destructive humans on the earth.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Wow, thanks everyone for those reponses! It seems really obvious now about free range as a start. I will check out that podcast for sure. Really, thanks!

  16. teh says:

    Call me a cynic, but for some reason I have this suspicion that the FDA regulations for “downer” cattle is that if it walks past a certain line, then its good. I imagine that all these workers were doing was forcing the cows to get past that line. The minute you have a set rule, someone will try to get around it.

    @suburbancowboy: Michael Pollan! I haven’t read his new book, but given that I rather enjoyed “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “The Botany of Desire,” I’d recommend it. More relevant, I’d also recommend “Fast Food Nation” (the book, not the movie) by Eric Schlosser.

  17. matto says:

    This is the sort of reason I stopped eating meat after reading “Fast Food Nation” and “Food Politics”. I cannot support an industry this evil with my money.

  18. UpsetPanda says:

    @teh: “In Defense of Food” is a great book…I really appreciated that he not only pointed out the issues, but also offered some simple solutions. He advocated a back to the basics approach to eating healthily and also gave advice on how to do it.

  19. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @melanie.dawn: Melanie, it is not necessary for you to become a vegetarian completely or immediately. Do whatever you feel comfortable with at first. For my fiance and I, we started not eating veal because of the horrible practices of veal farming, then we gave up chicken because he had worked in a chicken plant and was grossed out, then we gave up beef because we felt we did not trust the slaughterhouses and meat packers to provide us with uncontaminated, healthy food. Then my mom died of breast cancer, so milk and eggs went out the door. We occasionally still have fish if we go out with friends and there is not anything else suitable on a menu. At home we eat no animal products at all.

    If you would like some guidance from a creative vegetarian cook who isn’t a fanatic, please feel free to write me at my username at Hotmail.com. I can give you some resources and recipes. No stress. Food is not about stress. :)

  20. theblackdog says:

    @melanie.dawn: According to my Jewish friend, in order for beef to be Kosher, they have to kill the animal in a way that causes them the least possible amount of pain.

  21. SuffolkHouse says:

    Dont’ worry, the press won’t cover this. They don’t give a shit.

  22. ChesterCopperpot says:

    I know I couldn’t handle crap like this and the only thing that matters to these corporations is money. I decided to vote with my money and become a vegetarian. It’s not easy, but it’s better than being a party to shit like this.

  23. I do not work at Ag. I work at Labor. But, I can suggest that this regulatory “lapse” probably stems from “enforcement goals” set by the current administration. Enforcement agencies at Labor (OSHA, MSHA, Employment Standards Administration, among others) are steered by the current administration away from enforcement activities and into compliance assistance. Compliance assistance is where people turn themselves in (or are contemplating changes that might bring them afoul of Congressional Intent) and they ask for assistance in coming into compliance. The deemphasis on regulation enforcement, long hailed by certain people, has resulted in a pretty lax regulatory environment, and stories like this one.

    How sad for us. My first reaction was: how big is the plant to have 8 USDA inspectors on site, and what’s that going to do to my price for beef? Poor us, both in higher costs and lowered standards.

  24. saul38 says:

    Check this out if you want to know what food labels mean: [www.hsus.org]

    It’s great to support companies that have better humane practices, but what this investigation suggests is that the bigger problem is in the slaughterhouse. The cows in that video could have come from an organic farm: the bottom line is that it’s at least as important to know where the animals were slaughtered than were they were raised.

    Call the company and ask. See if they have any sort of auditing procedures for the facilities where they send their animals to be slaughtered.

    If you ask me, it might just be easier to be vegetarian most of the time. And the fact that those were dairy cows…. Ugh. Until I saw this investigation I never understood why anyone would be vegan.

  25. @speedwell: Uhm, what do milk and eggs have to do with breast cancer? Having read the research, nothing. At all. Nice try.

    I don’t try and convince vegetarians to eat meat. Please restrain your evangelical zeal.

    PS- where are you getting your b-12 from?

  26. carpediemcls says:

    Hunt and process your own wild game. Venison and elk burgers/steaks I think taste BETTER than beef, plus its a leaner meat and is healthier for you. Pkus if you’re an ethical hunter the animal dies more humanely at your hands than they ever would naturally.

  27. tk427 says:

    Believe it or not, old-fashioned family-run farms still exist. You can make a deal with a farmer where you purchase the cow (or half the cow) as a calf, they raise and slaughter it, and then you take home the (mostly broken down) packaged meat. You might have to grind your own hamburger and divide up some larger cuts into portions for freezing, etc. but this is true for many of the money-saving meat packages you might buy at a local butcher shop. If you don’t have room for a large standing freezer you could get together with others in your apartment building. You will save big bucks.

    Knowing, without a doubt, the exact conditions under which the animal lived is well worth the time.

  28. SadSam says:

    @UpsetPanda:

    Where are these slaughter houses that slaughter animals after giving them a fabulous last meal, putting them gently to sleep and then killing them so they feel no pain…. um they don’t exist.

    If you eat meat you are supporting the pain and suffering of animals, sorry no way around it.

    Is it better to eat free range, sure, is it better to buy meat from small country farmers, sure, but its still eating meat.

  29. elocanth says:

    @melanie.dawn: You don’t *have* to become a vegetarian, and becoming one won’t stop assholes like this from abusing animals. Instead, I heartily recommend coming to grips with what it means to have evolved as an omnivore, and being making careful purchase choices.

    What you can do is buy local (when possible) and know your butcher. If the idea of animals being abused like this really bothers you, become a USDA inspector or become a manager of a meat packing plant to ensure things like this don’t happen.

  30. loganmo says:

    I know it is bad to kill animnals and all, but damb my cowskin rug is hot and beef is just so darn tasty-what’s a boy to do?

    • kabuk1 says:

      @loganmo:

      Whats a boy to do? How about grow up a bit & stop making “shocking” comments just to piss people off.

      I imagine you have a big “EAT BEEF!” license plate on your muddin’ truck too, right?

  31. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @PotKettleBlack: Milk and eggs have hormones (natural hormones even in the organic kind), fat, and cholesterol, sweetie. Every doctor I talk to tells me these things impact hormone-dependent breast cancer and that I’m smart to give them up along with the meat.

    And what sort of evangelical zeal is there in offering advice to someone who is already interested?

    I’m getting my B-12 from my intestinal flora, like every healthy person. If I thought I was lacking in B-12 (which I am not), I would either supplement with a vitamin pill or refurbish my intestinal flora with a probiotic supplement or yogurt. Truly, this is not that difficult.

    What is difficult is dealing with condescending people who know just enough to show off their ignorance, such as yourself.

  32. LEEED says:

    Good answer Speedwell. I have been a vegetarian for over 25 years, and consider myself pretty healthy (at least according to my doctor) and would never eat meat again. I wouldn’t for health and ethical reasons. We don’t live in the dark ages, there are more then enough alternatives in food without the need to kill animals. Everyone makes there own choices, I choose not to participate in the slaughter of an animal to satisfy some misguided craving.
    Spend one day in a slaughterhouse, you will never eat meat again. Do your pets feel pain? Of course they do, so do slaughter animals, think about it.

  33. thatgirlinnewyork says:

    It’s the USDA’s long-overdue comeuppance. The 90s saw them crowing that there was no such problem of BSE in the U.S. while Britain, and much of Western Europe was battling over “fault” in the BSE epidemic–knowing full well that our cattle industry feeds their animals in exactly the same way as Europe. The problem was, at the time, they had no approved BSE testing program, nor the resources to do anything beyond very random testing of our immense national network of cattle farms. No testing? No disease! Brilliant logic.

    Isn’t it funny (not ha-ha) that at the same time, the FDA is getting flack for not being able to prevent tainted pharmaceuticals from finding their way into consumers’ hands?

    We need to stop pointing the finger at countries like China until we can get our own, tragic house in order.

  34. pyloff says:

    @surburbancowboy nice link, I missed that interview but I find the topic fascinating. I would recommend Omnivores Dilemma to anyone and I will be picking up his new book.

  35. kittenfoo says:

    This woman has probably done more to improve slaughterhouse conditions than anyone in history. I had to visit a slaughterhouse as part of my job many, many years ago, and it is something that I will never forget. Unfortunately, I still like the taste of beef and occasionally (once a week or so) still eat it. But even if you just cut back on beef consumption you are “voting” with your dollars. You can do a lot with beans and rice toward having a healthy amount of protein in your diet.

  36. rolla says:

    all govt agencies are incompetent. Look at the FDA…you can buy them off and get your product on the market. Look at some of the recalled drugs in the past…a proper investigation into the clinical trials of these drugs would have prevented some of these drugs from getting into the marketplace.

  37. timmus says:

    I’m a meat eater and I do not trust the U.S. meat supply at all, particularly with beef. The corporate-endorsed cruelty from companies like Hallmark, Seaboard, and Tyson and laughable USDA oversight does not help matters. I actually put quite a bit of effort into finding good, reputable companies and mail order our meat… caveat emptor.

  38. crazypants says:

    IMHO: USDA should install some cameras in every major slaughterhouse and feed all the video output to a centralized location.

    Hell, said video feed should be placed on the usda’s website, so we the people can look and see for ourselves where and how our food comes from.

    The cost for this would be minimal, and if they made the video feed available to the public, they wouldn’t need to police the video themselves, as I’m sure groups like PETA would love to monitor it for them and bring any and all outrageous violations such as these to their attention.

  39. tevetorbes says:

    Did anybody actually watch the video?

    Those brainless cockholes who were abusing the animals deserve far worse than being fired, indeed.

    Maybe somebody should poke them in the eyes with a stick or electrocute them as they lay helplessly and cry out in agony.

    Fuck those dudes. Just fuck them.

  40. karmaghost says:

    @kimsama: Well, like most government contracts, the job is given to the lowest bidder, so you’re not always guaranteed a good product/job/etc.

    I like how the meat packing company released a statement that said they had suspended operations in the facility while they do an investigation. Well yeah you suspended operations, the USDA shut you down!

  41. iMike says:

    Meat is fucking disgusting. And not very good for you either.

  42. goodkitty says:

    My vegetarian phases don’t usually last long at all. I was told that there’s something about beef in particular that has an addictive quality, either the fat or urine in it or something, but I have to agree, after a while you just find yourself “needing” it.

    When I can find it, I like Bison meat.

  43. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @goodkitty: I firmly believe your food is your thing. I’m able to be a vegetarian because I won’t give myself a guilt trip. It’s not an all or nothing deal unless you make it one. It’s perfectly legit to be a vegetarian “most of the time” or “some of the time,” or “none of the time” if that’s what you want. Your body, your choice, lighten up and enjoy life, OK?

  44. kimsama says:

    @speedwell: I am sure you already know this, but be careful with soy products. A lot of my friends who are at risk for hormone-related breast cancer gave up most meat due to hormonal concerns, but replaced it with daily helpings of tofu (chock full of phytoestrogens). You seem very well informed, though, so I am sure you already knew that — but hey, it’s possible others don’t, so I’d like to share!

    And besides, fermented soy seems to be low in phytostrogens, so it’s mostly unfermented soy products like tofu bricks you have to be careful of (and tempeh and natto are tastier anyway!).

  45. Here comes a rant.

    Nobody wants to do the dirty work in this country anymore. Nobody even wants to know that the dirty work goes on. Because of this, the united states has become a country that’s completely at the whim of china. Our society has “evolved” to the point that we are incapable of supporting ourselves. All of you city slickers who want free range, don’t want antibiotics, don’t want animals to be hurt would die if you ever had to support yourselves. PERIOD. You’d beg the farmers and the meat packing plant workers to help you.

    Why would we want to help you? You’re the ones who scoff at our methods that have worked for hundreds of years, you’re the ones who don’t want to eat our food.

    I invite anyone to come out and spend a week with me. We can do all sorts of things. We can spend 20 hours straight in a machine planting or picking crops. We can pick by hand. We can spend 4 AM to 8 PM one day slaughtering (happens every week. just plan for a crappy tuesday). After that we can go to a borough meeting where all of the city slickers who moved to the country complain about how the animals smell and we should be fined, or about how we shouldnt be allowed to expand our operations. To finish up the day, we can try to deter the kids from doing donuts in our fields or scaring the animals.

    Years ago the food producers supported the country. Now we’re treated like the plague while people trade in money and destroy our economy. All I have to say is this:

    Fuck each and every one of you. You can go hungry. I don’t give a damn.

    • kabuk1 says:

      @RamV10:

      Nobody here is bitching about ANY of that. We all understand how much the industry sucks. We’re all angry about how the animals are TREATED. There’s absolutely no reason to ram the living shit out of a poor sick cow with a fucking forklift or torture the animals in any way. It’s NOT part of the job. It’s disgusting human SADISM, and people who do that shit deserve to be killed VERY inhumanely. The only people in your position who are “treated like the plague” are the ones who do shit like THAT, because they ARE a plague. What’s wrong with finding a quick method of killing the cows so they suffer the LEAST? Would it really take THAT much damn effort to just knock the poor things out before cutting their throats? Maybe if you knew what it was like to feel the TERROR of feeling yourself slowly bleeding to death you’d have a little more compassion & care about more than just MONEY.

  46. rmz says:

    @iMike: Well, I’m convinced. Thanks for such a well-constructed argument!

  47. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @kimsama: Yup. You’re absolutely right. The latest science seems to say that soy phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) are protective against hormone dependent cancer, but if you get it anyway, you must stop immediately. It’s also true that the average vegetarian who likes soy eats much more soy than the average Japanese peasant ever did. Fortunately there are still easy ways to make meat substitutes using non-soy sources.

    Fermentation helps break down much of the chemicals of concern. Miso is a wonderful superfood. Tempeh is good if you like it. Natto is a weapon of mass destruction. (I kid.)

  48. Nemesis_Enforcer says:

    @RamV10: I agree. I grew up dirt poor where we literally had to go hunt our own food if we didn’t have the money for food. I think too many people are so high and mighty. “Oooh you eat meat what a asshole you are” . I enjoy meat and veggies equally. These guys in the video were fucked up. I can agree that the animals shouldnt suffer but they are grown for food. Just like we were born to eat meat and veggies. If you want to be a vegetarian go for it. But I have the same right to tell you to piss off if I want to eat meat.

    I have slaughtered my own animals for food. I have been to slaughterhouses and pet food plants. And I still eat meat. I have been to places on this planet where people would kill for the chance to eat what we throw away. Too many people forget all the people and industries that exist to do the things you won’t or can’t do.

  49. iMike says:

    @rmz: You’re welcome.

  50. iMike says:

    PS. I have killed my own meat.

  51. kabuk1 says:

    Stuff like this makes it all the more satisfying every time I hear about some jerkoff getting mauled or trampled by a pissed-off animal.

  52. oneheart says:

    I don’t understand how you can hurt an animal that is already hurting because it is sick.