Undercover videos push Tyson into requiring farm animal welfare audits

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November/December 2013:

 

ALTOONA––Goaded by repeated undercover video exposés of
rough handling and alleged neglect of livestock, Tyson Foods beef
supply chain manager Lora Wright on December 9, 2013 warned the Iowa
Cattlemen Association’s annual convention in Altoona that Tyson will
soon require beef and chicken suppliers to pass animal welfare audits.

“A third-party auditor will visit farms to ensure compliance,
assessing how workers handle animals, whether animals have access to
adequate food and water, and whether treatment is humane,”
summarized Donnelle Eller of the Des Moines Register. “The
requirements are driven by customers including McDonald’s and Whole
Foods.” These are among the biggest buyers from the Tyson Foods
group, which grossed $33.3 billion in sales in 2012.


The audits of cattle and chicken producers will be introduced
about a year after Tyson introduced animal welfare audits of about 3,000
pig producers. But the audits of pig producers did not prevent Tyson
from being embarrassed by the November 2013 release of undercover video
made by a Mercy for Animals operative at West Coast Farms, a Tyson
supplier in Okfuskee County, Oklahoma.
Made in September and October 2013, the Mercy for Animals video
caught workers grabbing piglets by their hind legs and smashing their
heads on concrete floors to kill them, and cutting off pigs’ tails
and castrating them without anesthetic. These are standard pig farmng
practices. The video also showed workers kicking pigs in the face;
hitting pigs with boards and a bowling ball; and in one case a worker
allegedly gouged a pig’s eye with his finger.
“We’re extremely disappointed by the mistreatment shown in
the video and will not tolerate this kind of animal mishandling,” said
Tyson Foods spokesperson Gary Mickelson. “We are immediately
terminating our contract with this farmer and will take possession of
the animals remaining on the farm.”
“I was stunned that anyone could be that callous in their
treatment of any animal,” West Coast Farms owner Lonnie Herring told
NBC News. “After viewing the video, I immediately returned to my farm
and terminated the employees seen in the video.”
But Mercy for Animals director of investigations Matt Rice told
Los Angeles Times reporter Matt Pearce that the unidentified undercover
operative reported abuses to West Coast Farms management and ownership
“multiple times,” without corrective action following.

Common practice

National Pork Board vice president for science and technology
Paul Sundberg defended the head-smashing to NBC News as “common
industry practice” to kill piglets who seem unlikely to survive.
The American Veterinary Medical Association allows smashing
piglets’ heads as “an effective way to euthanize nursing
piglets…shown to cause immediate unconsciousness and rapid death when
performed correctly on young piglets. It must be performed correctly,”
the AVMA hedges, “so that it does cause immediate unconsciousness
and rapid death.”
Animal Legal Defense Fund executive director Stephen Wells
expressed skepticism of the Tyson “Farm Animal Well-Being Advisory
Panel” almost as soon as it was introduced.
“Earlier this year,” Wells wrote in June 2013, “ALDF
filed a consumer protection complaint with the Federal Trade Commission
against Tyson Foods for misleading consumers with false and deceptive
advertising. Not surprisingly, Tyson strategically modified their
language to call gestation crates ‘individual housing,’ and stopped
calling themselves a leader in animal welfare. Yet Tyson’s website
still claims that their suppliers provide ‘favorable’ and
‘comfortable’ environments for pigs and chickens. Recently,”
Wells reminded, “five Tyson supplier employees were convicted of
criminal animal cruelty after an undercover investigation by the Humane
Society of the United States revealed the kicking and punching of pigs
as well as abhorrent conditions for mother pigs. The discrepancy
between Tyson’s public claims to be concerned with ‘animal
well-being’ and the reality of animal cruelty behind closed doors
gives us great reason to be skeptical about a Tyson-led ‘well-being’
panel.”

Whole Foods supplier

The value of industry-sponsored animal welfare audits was also
called into question by video obtained by a Compassion Over Killing
undercover investigator at the Bell & Evans chicken hatchery in
Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania, released in October 2013. A supplier to
Whole Foods Markets, “Bell & Evans has long presented itself as a
pioneer in the natural and organic foods movement and says it raises its
chickens on a vegetarian diet free of antibiotics,” observed
Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Allison Steele. “In 2010, Bell &
Evans became one of two premium chicken producers in the country to
start rendering chickens unconscious with carbon dioxide gas before
killing them, lessening the animals’ pain.”
Bell & Evens advertises that “all of our chickens are humanely
raised and compassionately handled, in a minimal-stress environment,
throughout their lives,” and says newly hatched chicks are “carefully
sorted from their shells, and placed in protective delivery baskets
headed for the farm.”
““This was, obviously, not what we saw,” said
Compassion Over Killing director Erica Meier. Instead, the video
showed chicks being dropped on conveyor belts. Injured chicks were fed
into a grinder.
“Consumers who are looking for cruelty-free meat need to know
about this,” said Meier. “Anyone concerned with their meat being
cruelty-free should recognize that animal cruelty is standard practice
in this industry.”
The West Coast Farms and Bell & Evans videos were still in the
news when Mercy for Animals and Compassion Over Killing released
undercover videos of cattle being roughly handled at the Wiese Brothers
dairy farm in Wisconsin and the Quanah Cattle Company in Colorado.
A Mercy for Animals undercover operative worked at Wiese
Brothers in October and November 2013, director of investigations Rice
said.
“Clips show cows who can’t stand being dragged with ropes
and heavy equipment or lifted with clamps. Workers whip, kick and stab
other cows to get them moving. One animal bleeds from cuts in her side;
another bleeds from her rear,” summarized M.L. Johnson of Associated
Press.
Wiese Brothers co-owner Mark Wiese told Associated Press that he
fired two workers and assigned another to duties that don’t involve
handling animals after seeing the video, but too late to keep the Wiese
milk supply contract with Foremost, thier biggest customer. “Foremost
supplies cheese to DiGiorno,” the pizza giant, “which is owned by
Nestle USA,” wrote Johnson. “Nestle said in a statement that it
had asked Foremost Farms not to send it cheese made from Wiese Brothers
Farm milk.”
The Compassion Over Killing undercover video brought misdemeanor
cruelty charges against Quanah Cattle Company employees Larry Loma, 32,
of Greeley; Ernesto Daniel Valenzuela-Alvarez, 34, of Eaton; and
Tomas Cerda, 33, of Greeley.
The video showed calves only a few days old being “violently
dragged by their legs, pulled by their ears, lifted by their tails,
kicked, thrown, slammed and flipped,” summarized Compassion Over
Killing.
Owned by J.D. Heiskell & Co., of Tulare, California, the
Quanah Cattle Company bull calf feeding operation had only been in
business for about a year.
“If this facility had been a slaughter plant,” said
Colorado State University livestock handling expert Temple Grandin,
“the USDA would have shut them down.”
“It’s quite evident, based on the video,” fellow
Colorado State University Department of Animal Sciences faculty member
Bill Wailes told Greeley Tribune reporter Eric Brown, “that these
workers don’t know how to properly handle animals. And it obviously
wasn’t explained to these workers why it’s important to handle them
properly.”

Investigator busted

But Compassion Over Killing investigator Taylor Radig was
herself charged in connection with the case on November 22, 2013.
Radig was charged, said the Weld County Sheriff’s Office,
because “The video was eventually provided to law enforcement by
representatives of Compassion Over Killing approximately two months
after Radig’s employment ended with Quanah Cattle Company…Radig’s
failure to report the alleged abuse of the animals in a timely manner
adheres to the definition of acting with negligence and substantiates
the charge of animal Cruelty.”
ANIMAL PEOPLE asked Compassion Over Killing on November 25,
2013 why the video was not promptly shared with law enforcement, after
Radig was no longer in proximity to possible physical retaliation for
having made the video. Receipt of the question was acknowledged by
publicist Patricia Jones, but was not answered.
Compassion Over Killing alleged in a prepared statement that,
“The charge against our investigator is unsupported by the law. It
reeks of political motivation fueled by an agribusiness industry that is
once again lashing out in desperation to stop undercover investigators
from exposing the truth.”
Blogged Green Is The New Red author Will Potter, “The
agriculture industry has been campaigning heavily for ‘ag-gag’ laws
that would make it illegal to photograph or videotape animal abuse on
factory farms The latest versions of these bills require investigators
to turn over video footage to law enforcement immediately, and some of
them would prohibit investigators from speaking with the press. These
so-called “mandatory reporting” requirements—which are strikingly
similar to what is at issue in this case—are intended to stop national
animal welfare groups from documenting patterns of abuse. Such
legislation was introduced in New Hampshire, Nebraska, Wyoming,
Tennessee, California, and North Carolina this year—and failed in
every state.”
But that still does not explain why the video was not shared
with law enforcement after Radig was no longer working at the Quanah
Cattle Company in a position to document patterns of abuse.

USDA cases

The USDA, meanwhile, documented patterns of abuse at the
Brooksville Meat & Fabrication Center in Bracken County, Kentucky, and
has repeatedly withdrawn inspectors from the facility without those
patterns of abuse being lastingly corrected.
“Four times this year, the latest on October 9,” reported
James Bruggers of the Louisville Courier-Journal, “the USDA cited the
facility with violating regulations under the Humane Slaughter Act,
which says livestock need to be rendered ‘insensible’ to pain before
being slaughtered. In some cases, workers who were dispatching
livestock with a 22-caliber gun were taking multiple shots and several
minutes to kill the animals, with an inspector describing such actions
as ‘egregious’ violations. Details about what the USDA inspectors
saw are contained in reports available to anyone with a computer, tablet
or smart phone,” Bruggers added, offering the links. “Warning:
they are disturbing and could turn people into vegetarians.”
The U.S. Department of Justice on November 27, 2013 announced a
$3.1 final settlement of litigation originating with a 2008 HSUS video
exposé of injured and ill cattle kicked, shocked and shoved with
forklifts at the Westland Meat Company and Hallmark Meat Packing Company
in Chino, California.
“The parties [initially] settled the lawsuit for $155
million,” reported Associated Press, “but the Justice Department
determined the defendants could only afford to pay a total of about $3.1
million because they were financially devastated by the recall” of
meat that followed the release of the HSUS video. Altogether, 71,500
tons of beef were recalled, much of which had been sold to the USDA
school lunch program.
Downed cattle may not be slaughtered for human consumption
because they may be infected with diseases transmissible to humans,
including “mad cow disease.”

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