Friday, February 29, 2008

HSUS vs. USDA – A "Downer" Of A Story

With the Hallmark/Westland story getting more complicated every day, I decided it would be worthwhile to generate a time-line.
  • December 23, 2003: A USDA lab diagnoses mad cow disease in the brain of a slaughtered "downer" cow. Eventually, the cow is discovered to have been imported from Canada (but that's another story).
  • January 12, 2004: In response to the December mad cow discovery, USDA issues an Interim Final Rule that, among other things, bans the slaughter of "non-ambulatory" cattle for human consumption. This Interim rule is destined to remain in effect for 3 1/2 years.
  • July 12, 2007: The Humane Society, in praising USDA's announcement of a permanent ban on the slaughter of most "downer" cows, expresses reservations about an amendment that opens a loophole. The Society's press release states:
    "A complete “no downer” policy encourages better treatment of animals on the farm and during transportation to slaughter to avoid preventable injuries."
  • July 13, 2007: USDA issues an "Affirmed Final Rule", which leaves in place most of the provisions of the Interim Final Rule, but which amends the total ban on "downer" slaughter. The amendment provides
    "... that non-ambulatory disabled cattle that are offered for slaughter must be condemned but that FSIS inspection personnel will determine on a case-by-case basis the disposition of cattle that become nonambulatory after they have passed antemortem inspection."
  • August 31, 2007: The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issues Notice #56-07, advising its inspection staff of the Affirmed Final Rule and instructing inspectors to meet with meat establishment personnel in order to acquaint them with the provisions of the Affirmed Final Rule.
  • October/November, 2007: The Humane Society of the United States carries out an undercover investigation at the Hallmark Meat Company and Westland Meat Company in Chino, CA, and provides the evidence to California law enforcement officials, but not to USDA.
  • January 30, 2008: The Humane Society releases a videotape resulting from its investigation of Hallmark/Westland. The tape shows workers using a variety of inhumane actions to prod "downer" cattle back onto their feet.
  • January 30, 2008: In response to the videotape, USDA suspends Hallmark/Westland Meat as a supplier to various federal food programs, including the School Lunch Program, and announces that it is opening an immediate investigation in to the company's actions. At the same time, the agency expresses regret that the Humane Society delayed releasing the results of its investigation to USDA.
  • February 4, 2008: FSIS withdraws its inspectors from Hallmark/Westland Meat, effectively shutting them down.
  • February 6, 2008: The Humane Society praises USDA's shutdown of Hallmark/Westland.
  • February 15, 2008: The state of California files animal cruelty charges against two employees of Hallmark/Westland.
  • February 17, 2008: USDA announces a 143 million pound recall of meat produced by Hallmark/Westland over a two-year period.
  • February 22, 2008:Secretary of Agriculture Schafer criticizes the Humane Society for "sitting on" the incriminating videotape.
  • February 27, 2008: The Humane Society initiates a lawsuit against USDA and FSIS.
  • February 29, 2008: Contradicting the Humane Society's reasons for not informing USDA of its investigation sooner, District Attorney of San Bernardino County, stated in a telephone interview with that his office had not asked the Humane Society to withhold the information from USDA. On the contrary, he is quoted by as saying, "We recommended that they speak to USDA."
It seems from my vantage point that there is a lot of "gamesmanship" going on. The money that will be spent on this lawsuit would be put to much better use ensuring the safety of our food supply and promoting the humane treatment of animals.

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