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February 22, 2008

Smoke and Mirrors

Newly appointed Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer was just on his second day at the job when The HSUS released the results of our investigation into a southern California slaughter plant that had made its core business the slaughter of "spent" dairy cows. Obviously, any missteps from the USDA in its oversight of the Hallmark/Westland Meat Co. did not happen on his watch.

Yet, Schafer is aggressively defending his agency—and that's his right. But he's taken it a bit far. He has more than a couple of times taken aim at The HSUS on subjects related to the investigation. "For four months they [HSUS] sat on that information," he told CNN yesterday.

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© The HSUS
Evidence of criminal conduct was first provided to the local DA.

I had already sent the USDA a timeline of our investigation, and I am sorry that Secretary Schafer doesn't understand that while we launched the investigation four months ago, it was completed some time later. We are pretty darn thorough here at The HSUS and 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 know violations of criminal statutes when we see them, and we turned the materials over to local authorities because the laws of California were breached. We knew that the San Bernardino County District Attorney is a strong law-and-order man, that he was not compromised by any association with the meat industry, and that he in the end would do the right thing.

Frankly, we did not turn to the USDA first because the agency has a history of canoodling with the industries it regulates. In fact, today The Press-Enterprise in Riverside, Calif. reported that our friends at the Inland Valley Humane Society and the SPCA, based in Pomona, had investigated downer cases at Hallmark more than a decade ago, and brought the information to the USDA's attention on at least three occasions. The result: no action from the USDA.

We didn't want to turn down a dead end with so much at stake.

Times change. Leaders change. We want to work with Secretary Schafer and with other leaders of the USDA and to be on good terms with them. If the USDA handles this case with the vigor it deserves, it can turn around its reputation of being too cozy with the companies it's supposed to regulate.

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