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February 04, 2008

Truth of the Matter

The HSUS’s investigation into cruelty at a California dairy cow slaughter plant has evoked a national outcry from consumers, state government officials, Congress, the USDA, animal scientists, and even some within the meat industry. The condemnation of the conduct of personnel at Hallmark Meat Packing has been nearly universal. But it's been no surprise to us that a handful of apologists for industry simply cannot bring themselves to focus on the cruelty we exposed, and instead they infuse their comments about the investigation with criticisms of The HSUS.

Two examples include the American Meat Institute (AMI) and the misleadingly named Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF). CCF is a front group for tobacco, alcohol, restaurant, and agribusiness interests, and I've written about the antics of this group several times before.

AMI asserted in a press release that The HSUS sat on our investigator’s information and gave it to a reporter before the authorities. CCF chimed in that it was “scandalous” for The HSUS not to turn the evidence over to the authorities first.

Downed cow being pushed with forklift at Hallmark Meat Packing in Chino, Calif.
© The HSUS
Seeking prosecution, we provided our video evidence
to the San Bernardino County district attorney's office.

I want to be sure to set the record straight, since these groups have made such utterly baseless and outrageous claims.

First, the investigation itself took in excess of two months, with an HSUS person undercover at the plant for six weeks. As soon as the field portion of the investigation concluded and our team properly assessed and organized the enormous volume of video and other research materials, we provided local law enforcement authorities with the evidence of criminal conduct and encouraged them to prosecute the perpetrators. Animal cruelty crimes are typically prosecuted by local and state law enforcement, and that's exactly where we turned. We'd do it again just that way if we were starting the process again.

Local authorities asked for extra time to assess this information before we released it. Time continued to elapse, and we eventually decided that we could wait no longer. Before releasing the information to the press, and showing the world the images of this appalling cruelty as a means of driving change, I called a senior official at the USDA to let the agency know what was about to be brought to public attention.

While the reaction of groups like AMI and CCF is as predictable as it is disappointing, I've been heartened by some of the more responsible voices within the animal agriculture sector. Many have condemned the torment of the downed cows. Hats off to them, and I truly hope they work hard to root out similar behavior within the industry and to work with The HSUS to establish a clear and unambiguous policy to bar any slaughter of downed cows. While The HSUS and many of these groups will have disagreements on a range of policy matters, here's a case where we can find some important common ground.

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