December 2007 Blog Home February 2008


25 posts from January 2008


January 31, 2008

Slaughterhouse Shake-Up

It's been a hectic 24 hours since The HSUS released the results of a lengthy investigation into a California dairy cow slaughterhouse, operating under the banner of Hallmark Meat Packing and Westland Meat Co. (ironically honored as a USDA "supplier of the year" for 2004-2005). The Washington Post did the first reporting on the issue, and then I conducted a press conference at our downtown Washington, D.C. office, which was packed with reporters. I was joined at the press conference by Dr. Michael Greger, a medical doctor and HSUS's director of public health and animal agriculture. Eric Sakach, HSUS's West Coast regional director, simultaneously led a Los Angeles press conference at our Hollywood Office, which was also packed with television cameras.

Downed cow prodded in face at California slaughterhouse
© The HSUS

Upton Sinclair, in reference to his book The Jungle, said "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach." Well, our video, which has now been broadcast across the world and been viewed by millions, has hit people in the stomach, and that's where it was aimed. We think Americans and others need to see the harsh reality for what passes as “humane handling” and slaughter by some companies in this country. Only if people of conscience see these images will they get outraged and demand change.

Dozens of television stations did solid and compelling reporting on the issue, but here are a few of the most thorough news treatments: the CBS Evening News, KGO-TV in San Francisco, ABC 7 of Los Angeles, and FOX 5 right here in Washington.

As the story gained traction and millions of Americans learned about the cruelty, the new Agriculture Secretary, Ed Schafer (just on his second day on the job), issued a statement and announced the suspension of the agency's contract with Westland Meat Co. The USDA also announced that it was involving its Inspector General and sending a team of investigators that very day to the plant. In addition, throughout the day, Sens. Richard Durbin, Barbara Boxer, Daniel Akaka, and Tom Harkin and Reps. Gary Ackerman, Peter DeFazio, and Rosa DeLauro issued calls for action and statements condemning the cruelty and related food safety threats, especially to children.

Downed cow pushed with forklift at California slaughterhouse
© The HSUS

We are still working to get the San Bernardino District Attorney's Office to take enforcement action. That office is charged with enforcing state law, and the footage that we released shows clear violations of the state anti-cruelty statute and the state “no downer” law. Please write or call the San Bernardino District Attorney and politely ask him to take action and prosecute those responsible. You can reach him at 909-382-3660.

Finally, I want to say thanks to our undercover investigator who toiled for weeks at the slaughterhouse and documented the conduct of the people working there. He must remain nameless to preserve his identity for future investigations, but his bravery and ability to document what was going on may help have a transformative effect not only on the behavior of this company and other slaughterhouses, but on the consciousness of the American public. Bravo to you.

January 30, 2008

Torture on Tape

In 2007, the term "waterboarding" entered into the American lexicon. I never thought that knowledge of the practice would inspire animal abusers, but that's exactly what's happened.

An HSUS investigation we revealed today—as reported in The Washington Post—focused on the abuse of downed cows, unable to stand or walk, at a Chino, Calif. slaughterhouse. The slaughterhouse was a magnet plant for downer cast-aways from the dairy industry in the Southwest, even though California law and federal law bar with very limited exceptions the slaughter of downers.

The footage that we obtained revealed that the plant manager at the slaughterhouse viewed the cows as dollars on the hoof, and he didn't want to let a single animal not be utilized.

The result was that animals who were down and nearly lifeless were subjected to appalling acts of cruelty—repeated hot shots (electric shocks, including in the anus and the eye), tail twisting, shackling and dragging, ramming with forklifts, and, yes, even high-pressure water hosing in the mouth and nose to simulate drowning—right out of the waterboarding manual we heard about last year at Guantanamo Bay. The employees made the cows suffer so much that some of the sick and injured animals would rise and walk on their own.

These cows were guilty of nothing, and did not deserve this torment.

California prosecutors should arrest the miscreants at this plant. And the USDA needs to grab its inspectors who oversaw this plant by the Adam's apple and say never again. And while the USDA is at it, it must tighten its federal rule barring downers. The rule has a loophole that allows the slaughtering of downed animals on a case-by-case basis if they go down after they pass antemortem inspection. This rule contributes to the torment that we saw at the plant in Chino. Vicious managers will poke, shock, prod, shackle, slam, and even drown animals to get them moving, if they see an opening in the law. All downed animals should be immediately euthanized, not tormented further.

Take a look at the footage, and let the USDA know how appalled you are.

Calif_cow_video_still

January 29, 2008

Talk Back: Humane Mission

Readers commended 11-year-old Haley Ham of Tennessee who, after losing her two dogs to antifreeze poisoning, spearheaded the introduction of legislation to help prevent such a tragedy. Among the comments we received:

Way to go Haley! Taking action through your pain took a lot of determination but because you persevered countless humans and animals will be able to live out their lives. Your story is an inspiration to us all! —Pamela Bertsch

I'm moved by this girl's courage to take the action necessary to protect other people's pets from suffering the same fate. And congratulations to her for winning such a distinction from the HSUS. —Lisa J

Good for you, Haley! You have learned a great lesson early in life—that we cannot undo tragedy, but we can take the energy of our grief and use it to give our tragedy meaning, and make the world better for everyone. I'm so sorry for your loss, but proud of you for seeing the simple solution and taking action! —Yodel's Mom

Dear Haley: I am so sorry for the loss of your beautiful friends, Sam and Jessie. Much love and respect to you for your terrific work in helping change this poison that is so available in many homes. I have heard of other animals passing by this. God bless you dear child. Animals are the "eyes of God" and are given to us as gifts. It is our responsibility to see they are respected and taken care of. —Linda Elliott

Why does it take legislation to force the makers of antifreeze to add a bittering agent? They should just do it to help save animals and humans. They are going to pass the cost onto us anyway. Seems like a no-brainer to me. —candacd

You Asked: Homes for Horses

Today I'd like to respond to a query that came in after last week's blog about the National Call-In Day for Horses.

Q. If people can't afford to take care of their horses, besides slaughter and auction, what other avenues do they have? Just a question. There are not enough foster homes or adoption homes set up for the unwanted.

A. Owning a horse comes with responsibilities and horse owners, just like caretakers of dogs and cats, must be prepared to make humane decisions at all stages of the animal’s life. Providing food and water, protection from the elements, and paying for needed veterinary care are just the basics. In addition, horse owners must act responsibly should they decide they can no longer care for the horse. They can give or sell the horse to another caring home; they can relinquish or donate the horse to a rescue facility or therapeutic riding center; or, if no other option exists, they can have the horse humanely euthanized by a licensed veterinarian.

Mariah and Sahara, two horses rescued from slaughter by The HSUS
© The HSUS
Spared from slaughter, these horses now live in sanctuary.

While making the decision to euthanize an animal should never be made in a lax manner, humane euthanasia is generally a superior option to sending a horse to a suspect purchaser at an auction. It's at auction where "killer buyers " often misrepresent their intentions and purchase horses for slaughter. They cram dozens of horses into cattle trucks and ship them, often more than 1,000 miles, to a slaughterhouse in Mexico or Canada, and the horses there suffer a grim and harsh fate.

The cost of humane euthanasia and disposal for a horse is comparable to the cost of one month's care and is simply a part of responsible horse ownership. Frankly, if someone can't afford the cost to euthanize a horse, they can't afford to own a horse in the first place.

The horse rescue community in the United States is growing and The HSUS has a number of programs aimed at helping horse rescues operate as effectively as possible. For example, through a partnership with Pets911, we have developed a searchable horse adoption database. Last year, we partnered with several other national animal welfare groups and some of the best horse rescues in the country to form the Homes for Horses Coalition. We are in the midst of compiling a national database of horse rescues and, thus far, have identified hundreds of active facilities. In the coming weeks, I’ll share more news about these efforts.

January 28, 2008

Meaterial Excess

"Americans are downing close to 200 pounds of meat, poultry and fish per capita per year (dairy and eggs are separate, and hardly insignificant), an increase of 50 pounds per person from 50 years ago," wrote Mark Bittman yesterday, in a major piece in The New York Times' Week in Review section. He continued, "We each consume something like 110 grams of protein a day, about twice the federal government’s recommended allowance; of that, about 75 grams come from animal protein. (The recommended level is itself considered by many dietary experts to be higher than it needs to be.) It’s likely that most of us would do just fine on around 30 grams of protein a day, virtually all of it from plant sources."

Global warming flyer
This HSUS ad spotlights animal agriculture's
environmental impact.

The excessive consumption of meat, dairy, and egg products has consequences, and one of the biggest yet least-discussed consequences is the extraordinary output of greenhouse gasses—not just carbon dioxide, but also nitrous oxide and methane. In 2006, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization released a report called Livestock's Long Shadow, which pointed out that the animal agriculture sector contributes 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalent—a larger share than all transportation combined.

Yet, many environmental organizations expressing alarm about climate change have no policy recommendations on mitigating the impact of animal agriculture, nor any exhortations to modify personal behavior to reduce our own greenhouse gas footprint. One can only conclude that it's a moral blind spot for these groups and their leaders. Perhaps it hits too close to home. Maybe they don't want to think about modifying their own behavior, or perhaps they do not want to ask their own members to make changes that would be uncomfortable, or there's a chance they simply don't want to look foolish.

We don't take that view at The HSUS. Our food choices have enormous implications for the planet's health, our personal health, and for animals, and we urge every HSUS supporter to start examining these questions, if they have not already.

A good start to your research is to carefully read Bittman's well-researched and important piece. For a deeper dive, we've detailed the meat, dairy, and egg industry's impact on climate change in a comprehensive report at humanesociety.org/climatechange. Keep clicking through the pages of our website and you’ll find an abundance of information on almost every facet of the animal agriculture industry.

January 25, 2008

Betrayal of Trust

There is always something that's disturbed us more about cannibalism than mere homicide. In either circumstance, the victim is dead, but the consumption of the corpse multiplies the level of social disgust by a major factor. It not only offends our aesthetic senses, but also upends the notion of community. A civil society requires a minimum threshold of empathy and trust between people, and without absolute social taboos and legal standards against this conduct, an enduring social contract would be difficult indeed to achieve.

It's a big leap from there to our killing and eating of non-human animals, but a cruelty case in Hawaii brought to light this week prompted me to think a bit more about our social relations with other animals and our expanding definition of community.

Caddy, a dog that was stolen in Hawaii
Caddy.

As Nelson Daranciang of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported yesterday, two former employees of Hawaii's Moanalua Golf Club—Saturnino Palting, 58, and Nelson Domingo, 43—were indicted on second-degree theft and first-degree cruelty to animals charges for stealing a dog from one of the club's members and then butchering and eating the dog, an 8-month old German shepherd-Labrador mix.

Frank Manuma, the dog's owner, apparently had permission to leave his dog Caddy at an equipment shack near the clubhouse while he played a round of golf. When he returned, the dog was gone, and several witnesses reported having seen the defendants abscond with the young dog. According to Manuma's wife, the two later confessed to police that they did in fact kill and eat Caddy.

Hawaii is the most recent state to have adopted felony-level penalties for animal cruelty, and this case is likely to be the first prosecution under that new statute.

Stealing and killing this vulnerable, trusting dog was appalling. But yes, it did compound the crime—even if it did not compound the suffering—for the men to have eaten this dog. We have developed social and legal codes to protect dogs and cats, and a pet-loving society rightly has a zero tolerance policy for people stealing dogs or cats and making them an ingredient in a stew. We have rules and standards, and those standards must be applied in the real world.

Indeed, our democratic society is in the throes of a larger debate about extending these standards, and the lines can get a bit blurry. For example, Americans do not eat horses, but some people in other nations do, and The HSUS has been driving the effort to halt the export of American horses for slaughter for human consumption in certain countries in Asia and Europe.

Our relations with animals in society are fraught with contradictions—we profess to be an animal-loving society, and we are capable of great philanthropy for animals, yet we live in the presence of enormous institutionalized animal cruelty. Still, the trajectory of the debate is clear—more empathy, more compassion, more protections for other beings that feel and suffer like we do. Where the lines are bright and clear—as they are in the case in Hawaii—the law should speak, and with resounding force.

January 24, 2008

From Tragedy to Triumph

Last month, 11-year-old Haley Ham of Tennessee wrote to us about her two beloved dogs, Sam and Jessie:

"From the time I was 7 and he was just 8 weeks old, I knew Sam belonged to me. We were inseparable. Jessie was big and affectionate. He would follow me around the neighborhood and when I visited my friends he would wait by the door for me. He was like a guardian. I really loved him, and I'll never forget his loyalty to me."

Haley Ham
Haley with a photo of Sam.

Haley then sadly reported that last April she lost these two best friends to antifreeze poisoning. In her letter, she continued, "Sam and Jessie suffered so much, I couldn't believe something so deadly was just sold at nearly every store."

Heartbroken but moved to do something, Haley embarked on a campaign to require a bittering agent be added to antifreeze sold in Tennessee, making the normally sweet substance unpalatable to pets, wildlife or small children. Five states have already passed legislation requiring the additive, and several more are considering bills.

In the wake of her tremendous loss, Haley wrote letters to all of her state legislators and collected hundreds of signatures of support at her county fair and through an Internet petition.

State Sen. Raymond Finney agreed to help. He introduced S.B. 2399, which would require that antifreeze sold in the state contain the bittering agent. State Rep. Janis Sontany introduced the companion bill, H.B. 2808.

Finney recently sat down with Haley and her mother, and HSUS Tennessee State Director Leighann McCollum, to plan a strategy for the bill's passage. And yesterday, Haley spoke before the Senate at a hearing on the bill, and served as a Senate page for the day.

Hats off to Haley, an incredible kid on a mission to spare countless children and animals from horrible suffering. Because of her efforts, today Humane Society Youth named Haley its KIND Kid for 2008. We hope her story inspires people of all ages to turn love and concern for animals into action.

January 23, 2008

Sounding Off on Sonar

In March 2000, the U.S. Navy conducted a mid-frequency sonar exercise in the Bahamas, and 16 whales turned up stranded on the beaches. It had been theorized for some years that the intense underwater sounds are responsible for marine mammal deaths, but the strandings provided compelling evidence of that impact. In the years following, the evidence mounted that mid-frequency military sonar was implicated in many more mass whale strandings—including several that occurred in the decades before the Bahamas incident.

Beaked whales
Beaked whales are among the species affected by naval sonar.

The issue came to a head a few weeks ago when a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled—in response to a lawsuit led by the Natural Resources Defense Council—that the Navy’s sonar training violates several environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act.

However, the Court did not order the Navy to scrap its sonar system, nor did it demand a halt to all Navy training activities. Instead, the Court simply ordered the Navy to improve its existing measures to protect whales from the harmful effects of its sonar operations.

In a post-9/11 world, sensible people agree that national security is a priority concern. But here, too, there must be limits. What is the military protecting if, in protecting us, it destroys our environment and kills our wildlife? By forcing the Navy to heed both its security interests and its duty to protect the environment, the Court’s ruling was a model of balanced jurisprudence.

But the Navy thumbed its nose at the courts. Rather than work with the plaintiffs and the court on implementing the new restrictions—rather than live up to its rhetoric of being a “good steward of the oceans”—the brass went straight to the White House, asking for an exemption from the nation’s environmental laws.

On Jan. 16, President Bush granted the extraordinary request, in full.

This was a tremendously disappointing example of the Administration acting like it is above the law.

The military must play by the rules. We should not suspend our environmental and marine mammal protection laws simply because the Navy wants it that way.

Congress should now step in, and restore a rational balance between our need to protect our country, and our need to preserve the marine life and the health of our environment.

January 22, 2008

Make the Call for Horses

If you are on our email list, this morning you may have received an alert about today’s National Call-In Day for Horses.

I don’t have to tell you that this is a crucial time to make your voice heard. Our horses are being shipped to foreign slaughterhouses, enduring harrowing journeys and facing grisly, inhumane slaughter, while groups aligned with the horse slaughter and livestock industries try to bottleneck federal legislation that would protect horses from this fate.

American horse awaiting slaughter
© The HSUS

Please take just a few minutes today to help rally support for H.R. 503/S. 311, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, which would prohibit the slaughter of American horses for human consumption and prohibit their export for slaughter. In order for H.R. 503/S. 311 to be enacted in the 2007-2008 Congressional session, it must pass both chambers within this two-year period (the bill passed the House in 2006, but time ran out before the Senate was able to consider it).

First, check to see if your U.S. Representative is already a co-sponsor of H.R. 503 and if your two U.S. Senators are co-sponsors of S. 311. If they are, please call and thank them for their support, and urge them to do all that they can to pass this important legislation. If they are not, please call and urge them to co-sponsor H.R. 503/S. 311. You can reach your members of Congress by calling the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121, or look up their Capitol office phone numbers.

After you’ve made your calls, let us know how things went. And finally, to maximize our impact, please ask all of your friends and family to also call their legislators today.

Your calls do make a difference. Today, you can help send the message that Congress needs to act now to protect American horses.

January 18, 2008

All Bets Off

We are in the thick of the presidential primaries, and no candidate has a lock on his or her party's nomination. These next three weeks are likely to be decisive in the selection of the major party nominees, with more than 20 states conducting primaries on Feb. 5—so-called Super Tuesday. Elections for local, state, and federal officeholders have major implications for animals, and I urge all HSUS members and other animal advocates to register to vote to make your voice heard.

There are also ballot initiatives or referendums that will appear in many states, and a few of them center on the treatment of animals. California may have a sweeping farm animal measure on the ballot in November, Massachusetts voters may have the opportunity to ban greyhound racing, Alaska citizens may vote for the third time to stop aerial shooting of wolves, and North Dakotans may decide a question on banning canned hunts.

Brindle greyhound's face
© iStockphoto

But the first measure to be considered in 2008 is Question 3 on the Miami-Dade County (Florida) ballot on Jan. 29. Question 3 is an attempt by wealthy greyhound track owners to prop up their cruel industry by installing Las Vegas-style slot machines at their tracks. The HSUS urges all registered voters in Miami-Dade County to vote "no" on this measure. If you know people in Miami-Dade, I urge you to forward them this blog.

Greyhound racing is a fading industry, but it still causes harm to dogs. The only long-term survival strategy for this industry is to introduce Las Vegas-style gambling practices at the tracks to generate revenue from slots. And that's precisely what Question 3 will allow. Under Florida law, in order to have other forms of gambling at tracks, you must have live racing. This means that dogs continue to run, even though that aspect of the business is not all that profitable.

Records shows that dogs suffer serious injuries, especially broken bones, while racing, and deaths are known to occur. They are treated like racing machines. What's more, the dogs at the track endure almost constant confinement when not racing. And when they don't perform well, they are discarded, killed by track henchman or put up for adoption to compete with humane societies and rescue groups already overburdened with their awesome adoption responsibilities.

There are 34 states that do not allow greyhound racing, and it is no point of pride for Florida to be home to one half of the nation's 38 dog racing tracks. (If you live in one of the states that operate greyhound racing tracks or in a state that has not yet banned the sport, contact your elected officials and express your opposition.)

Voters in Miami-Dade already rejected the profit-schemes of wealthy track owners once before, defeating it by a 53-47 vote in 2005. They should do so again.