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February 25, 2008

Condemned

The Wall Street Journal reports on its front page today that the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co., with annual revenues of about $100 million, is expected to permanently shut down as a result of the fallout from The HSUS investigation into the dairy cow slaughter plant's operations. "I don't see any way we can reopen," the company's general manager told the newspaper. USDA officials announced last Thursday that they will require Hallmark/Westland to pay for the costs associated with destroying and replacing meat sold to the USDA and funneled to states through the National School Lunch Program and other federal assistance programs.

Investigator observes abuse of downer cow at Hallmark
© The HSUS

It's been 26 days since The HSUS released disturbing footage of animal cruelty from a hidden camera investigation at the Chino-based company, and the statement by a high-ranking Hallmark/Westland official is just the latest thunderclap in the case. The footage of plant workers abusing animals too sick or injured to walk has caused outrage throughout the nation and spurred lawmakers and USDA officials to admit that there are dangerous deficiencies in the oversight of animal handling prior to slaughter.

In the last three weeks, the issue has drawn editorial comment from a large share of the nation's major newspapers. Today, The Arizona Republic said, "This is where animal cruelty and the threat to human health intersect." The Houston Chronicle observed yesterday, "If you can bear to watch it, the Humane Society's video shows as no words can how enmeshed the careful, humane treatment of animals is with the quality of the food they become." "The Humane Society's discovery of such appalling abuses, to which the plant's federal inspectors apparently were oblivious, is more evidence that the nation's food-safety system is in desperate need of an overhaul," wrote Ohio’s Columbus Dispatch in Sunday's paper.

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and dozens of other papers have written about the problems exposed by the investigation, and to varying degrees have expressed their disgust with Hallmark's conduct, have excoriated the USDA for the shortcomings in its oversight, and called on Congress to offer solutions. Some papers have focused on the need for an overhaul of our food safety system, arguing that this responsibility should not be housed within the USDA, but in a separate agency that can consolidate and better manage the function and do so without a conflict, since the USDA's primary mission is to promote American agriculture.

On Tuesday, Michael Greger, M.D., director of public health and animal agriculture at The HSUS, is set to testify before a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on the issue, and on Thursday, I am slated to testify before the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. We'll have a lot to say.

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