Slaughterhouse cruelty leads to biggest beef recall in U.S. ever
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2008:
CHINO, Calif.; WASHINGTON D.C.–Animal advocates are hoping
that the biggest meat recall in U.S. history will finally bring
enforcement of federal slaughter standards, 50 years after Congress
passed the Humane Slaughter Act, 30 years after making compliance
Responding to videotape produced by an undercover
investigator for the Humane Society of the U.S., the USDA on
February 3, 2008 withdrew inspection of the Hallmark/ Westland Meat
Company in Chino, Calif-ornia, forcing the slaughterhouse to close.
The video showed downed cows being forced to their feet to
walk to slaughter by means including electroshock, tail-yanking,
kicking, lifting them with a forklift, and ramming them with the
“Because the cattle [slaughtered at Hallmark/Westland] did
not receive complete and proper inspection, the Food Safety
Inspection Service has determined them to be unfit for human food and
the company is conducting a recall,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed
Schafer announced on February 17.
The beef was recalled not because of the cruelty of the
Hallmark/Westland employees’ actions, but because USDA regulations
require that non-ambulatory cattle either not be slaughtered for
human consumption or be individually inspected before slaughter to
ensure that they are not suffering from ailments– such as “mad cow
disease”–which may be passed to humans who eat them.
The recall included the remains of all cattle slaughtered at
Hallmark/Westland since February 1, 2006–143 million pounds of
beef, including about 50 million pounds that were supplied to school
lunch programs, more than 20 million pounds of which were already
The USDA honored Hallmark/ Westland as the federal school
lunch program “Supplier of the Year” for 2004-2005. It was one of
just 23 boneless beef suppliers, among about 900 in the U.S., that
was approved to supply federal programs.
The Hallmark/Westland recall also involved products marketed
by General Mills Inc., Nestle Prepared Foods Co., and Hormel,
under the Farmer John’s label.
Hallmark/Westland general manager Anthony Magidow said the
recall would probably put the slaughterhouse permanently out of
business. The Hallmark/Westland recall was more than four times the
size of the previous record beef recall of 35 million pounds, which
put Thorn Apple Groves Inc. of Forrest City, Arkansas, out of
business in 1999.
The Thorn Apple Groves recall was due to bacterial
contamination, as were a series of recalls from another major school
lunch program supplier, Supreme Beef Processors Inc. of Dallas,
also in 1999.
Like Thorn Apple Groves, Supreme Beef Processors Inc.
closed, but the National Meat Association used the Supreme Beef
closure as a test case that in 2001 overturned the USDA use of
salmonella as an indicator for the potential presence of more deadly
forms of bacteria.
The Hallmark/Westland recall came two days after San
Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos filed criminal
charges against former Hallmark/Westland supervisor Daniel Ugarte
Navarro, 49, who had worked for 30 years at the slaughterhouse
under a succession of owners, and employee Rafael Sanchez Herrera,
“Navarro told Chino police that a former owner, Donny
Hallmark, instructed him to use techniques such as forcing animals
up with the forklift or holding water hoses to the nostrils of
cattle,” wrote Richard Brooks of the Riverside Press-Enterprise.
Fingerprints identified Sanchez as an illegal alien with
outstanding warrants against him in two unrelated drug cases, under
two other names.
The HSUS undercover investigator told reporters for the Los
Angeles Times and Sacramento Bee that he gave Hallmark/ Westland his
real name and Social Security number and was quickly hired,
apparently with no background checks. The job paid $8.00 an hour for
12-hour days of hard labor. A vegan, he ate soy burgers and fake
deli meat in his car during brief lunch breaks, trying to avoid
Almost immediately, the investigator said, he saw routine
use of illegal procedures, including electroshocking and
tail-yanking to try to make downed cattle walk to slaughter. He
described seeing two workers kill one cow where she fell, then drag
her with a chain into the slaughter box on her knees.
The investigator used tiny video cameras worn under his
shirt, with an hour of recording capability per day. He wore out
three cameras during the surveillance.
The USDA inspectors who are supposed to enforce the Humane
Slaughter Act and meat safety rules against slaughtering downed
animals were never present when the abuse took place, the HSUS
USDA spokesperson Laura Reiser told media that the
Westland/Hallmark slaughterhouse had five USDA inspectors present per
working day, including three slaughter line inspectors, a
veterinarian, and a roving inspector.
Livestock handling expert and slaughterhouse designer Temple
Grandin told Leslie Berkman of the Riverside Press-Enterprise that
the abuses at Hallmark/ Westland were “some of the worst stuff I have
seen–a horrible cruelty issue,” and expressed skepticism, from
having visited Hallmark/ Westland twice herself, that the management
and USDA personnel could not have known about the use of the forklift.
“I can tell you I know others around the country were not
trying to get cows up with a forklift,” Grandin told Berkamn. “This
is totally bad and unusual.”
National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals chair Stan
Painter told Associated Press writer Gillian Flaccus on February 29
that the USDA had placed a veterinarian and a floor inspector who had
worked at Hallmark/ Westland on paid administrative leave.
“Painter said a local union representative told him earlier
that a third inspector was also placed on leave, but he could not
confirm it with the agency,” wrote Flaccus. The USDA refused to
“The USDA inspection squad has been trimmed by both political
parties since the 1970s, plummeting to about 7,800 from 12,000 in
1978,” wrote Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business & the Coming Food
Crisis author Christopher D. Cook in a commentary published by the
Los Angeles Times. “Unannounced inspections have diminished to
roughly 15,000 annually, from more than 22,000,” coinciding with
“soaring rates of salmonella, E. coli, and other bacterial
contamination since the 1970s,” Cook added.
At that, the USDA acknowledges having about 500 unfilled
positions for inspectors.
“I would say we have an adequate number of inspectors,” Food
Safety Inspection Service administrator Alfred Almanza testified to
the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture on February 28.
But Roger Via-dero, the USDA inspector general from 1994 to
2001, told reporters that the agency needs at least 10,000
Apart from the issue of adequate inspection is the issue of
whether non-ambulatory cattle should be slaughtered at all.
Traditionally, dairy farmers only sell cattle to slaughter
when they begin to break down from the stress of bearing calves every
year to keep their milk flowing. Many already have difficulty
standing for long intervals even before they spend hours or days
being trucked to slaughter, typically arriving dehydrated and
The dairy industry has vehemently opposed legislation that
might prevent farmers from loading spent cows to be trucked to
slaughter. The alternative would be killing the cows on the farm,
meaning that their remains could not be sold for human consumption.
Instead, rendering companies might pay a minimal amount for the
carcasses–or might charge a fee to remove them, depending on the
distance they would have to be hauled and the state of the market for
rendered byproducts, used mainly as animal feed and fertilizer.
Slaughtering downed cattle began to become a concern of
public health officials as recognition developed, beginning in
Britain in 1986, that mad cow disease might be transmitted from
animal to animal through the consumption of the remains of infected
animals. Ten years later, in 1996, came evidence that a form of
mad cow disease had passed from beef to humans.
The U.S. organization Farm Sanctuary debuted in 1986 by
rescuing a downed sheep from a stockyard “downer” pile, and has made
campaigning against the slaughter of “downers” a focal campaign ever
since. However, the first Farm Sanctuary legislative success, in
California in 1994, resulted in a law that the rival Humane Farming
Association warned would prove unenforceable, and in fact it was not
enforced at Westland/Hallmark despite several enforcement
In particular, the Inland Valley Humane Society & SPCA, of
Pomona, reportedly investigated “downer” cases at Hallmark at least
three times in the 1990s. As well as unsuccessfully seeking action
at the state level, the Inland Valley Humane Society & SPCA shared
its findings with the USDA, which failed to act.
The USDA did, however, cite Hallmark/Westland in 2005 for
overuse of electric prods–and then dismantled the regulation that
might have prevented the abuses that the HSUS undercover investigator
“After a mad-cow scare in 2003,” explained Los Angeles Times
staff writer Nicole Gaouette, “the USDA banned downer cows from the
food system. But at the same time, it created a regulation allowing
any cow that fell in the slaughterhouse to proceed to the kill box if
a veterinarian inspected the animal and concluded that she fell
because of injury, not illness.”
HSUS on February 27 sued the USDA for allowing this exemption
to the rule against slaughtering downers, which the lawsuit contends
was improperly adopted and provides farmers with a financial
incentive to sell unhealthy cattle to be slaughtered.
The HSUS lawsuit points out that a 2006 audit by the USDA
inspector general found that of 29 non-ambulatory cows killed at 12
slaughterhouses during a 9-month interval, 20 exhibited no evidence
of an incapacitating injury. This implies that they were suffering
instead from undiagnosed diseases.
“We do not believe this is a food safety issue,” testified
agriculture secretary Schafer on February 28, despite the recall and
the HSUS lawsuit, but Schafer announced that the USDA would conduct
more random inspections of slaughterhouses, and would pay more
attention to those like Hallmark/ Westland that handle former dairy
Even as Schafer addressed Congress, Canada confirmed having
discovered a case of mad-cow disease, the 12th known in Canada,
this one in a six-year-old Alberta dairy cow, born about five years
after both Canada and the U.S. in 1997 banned feeding cattle “milk
replacers” and other substances containing recycled cattle remains.
The discovery came three months after the U.S. lifted most of
the restrictions on imports of Canadian beef and live cattle that
were imposed after the first Canadian mad cow disease case was
detected in 2003.
USDA spokespersons asserted that because most of the meat
from downed cattle slaughtered at Westland/Hallmark had already been
eaten without anyone becoming ill, the health risk from it was
Responded Jack Woodall, assistant editor of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases’ electronic bulletin
board ProMed, “Since the human form of BSE has an incubation period
of years, this statement is meaningless.”
Schafer assailed HSUS for allegedly contributing to the
circumstances leading to the beef recall by delaying the release of
the undercover video.
“I am sorry that Secretary Schafer doesn’t understand that
while we launched the investigation four months ago, it was
completed some time later,” responded HSUS president Wayne Pacelle.
When the research was completed, the results organized, and all of
the hidden camera video reviewed, we turned over the information to
the San Bernardino district attorney’s office. We turned the
materials over to local authorities because the laws of California
were breached. Frankly, we did not turn to the USDA first because
the agency has a history of canood-ling with the industries it
Representative Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Connecticut) said she would
hold hearings in March 2008 on a proposal to separate food safety
inspection from USDA jurisdiction.
“Food safety ought to be of a high enough priority in this
nation that we have a single agency that deals with it, and not an
agency that is responsible for promoting a product, selling a
product, and then as an afterthought dealing with how our food
supply is safe,” said DeLauro.
Speculating that the HSUS undercover video might prove
pivotal in advancing some sort of legislative or regulatory reform,
Associated Press writer Frederic J. Frommer recalled the undercover
film of hog slaughter made by Arthur P. Redman of Seattle, aired at
a 1957 congressional hearing, which helped Senator Hubert Humphrey
(D-Minnesota) to win passage of the Humane Slaughter Act, three
years after he introduced the first draft version.
“We are morally compelled, here in this hour, to try to
imagine– to try to feel in our own nerves–the totality of the
suffering of 100 million tortured animals,” said Humphrey. “The
issue before us today is pain, agony and cruelty.”