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Is Your Child Eating Downer Cows?

It has been over four years since the public was horrified and sickened to watch dying dairy cows moved with pitchforks into the slaughter line to make meat for the national school lunch program.  By law animals must walk under their own steam to slaughter to prevent “sick” animal from getting in the food supply.

Though the dairy slaughter facility in Chino, CA, Westland/Hallmark Meat Company, was shut down and the beef recalled in the largest meat recall in US history, yesterday’s suspension of Central Valley Meat Co. in Hanford, CA for similar abuses against sick and dying cows, recorded by Compassion Over Killing, shows that little has changed.

The video in 2008, filmed by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) showed “cull” cows in metabolic collapse and unable to walk after providing the nation’s milk on dairy farms. Their sad, sacked carcasses only fetch $400 dollars at such cull slaughterhouses and the mechanisms used to make them walk to slaughter during their final moments seem the final insult.

Most cheap and ground beef such as found at fast food outlets and in hamburgers is from such dairy cows who have already done their duty on dairy farms. Their meat is also full of veterinary drugs to keep them alive and their milk flowing under extreme conditions. Beef that is not from such cows is mostly only found in steaks and better beef cuts.

“Why don’t you have a system that uncovers this inhumane treatment of animals?” Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) asked USDA officials during congressional hearings after the Westland/Hallmark scandal.  And when Ken Peterson, assistant administrator of the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service told the press that the cows they saw were probably being moved “out of the slaughter chain” and not into the slaughter chain, or that they had had accidents (right), Miriam Falco of CNN Medical News was skeptical. “You’re saying that those [downers] never would have passed inspection anyway. But we see video of them going into the facility. So at what point does your inspection pick up on this?” she asked.

After agriculture secretary, Ed Schafer, who had assumed his post just days earlier, vowed that the USDA would conduct its own investigation since he felt the video amounted to only allegations, Bill Tomson of Dow Jones News Wire said, “Do you actually expect to go down there and ask them if they were doing anything illegal, and people to say, well, yes, we were?” Andy Dworkin of the Oregonian also remarked on the farce of a federal inspection after the fact. How can inspectors observe slaughter activity and “be discreet” when “all the workers know who they are?” he asked.

“It seems like maybe the folks had outsmarted the inspection system,” observed Steve Cornet with Beef Today. “Is this a system that’s . . . easily circumvented?” Other beef industry representatives were also appalled at the state of the dairy cattle. “We just don’t see that out here in beef country,” said Steve Hilker, a cattle hauler from Cimarron, KS, at hearings. “Around here, a ‘downer’ cow in the feed yard is one that’s got a leg issue–that’s had something happen to them, like stepping on a rock or in a crack, something like that.”

Records soon revealed that Westland/Hallmark was not new to authorities but a repeat offender–cited by the USDA in 2005 for “too much electric prodding causing animals to get more excited while being driven towards [the kill] box.” Will the same be discovered about Central Valley Meat Co.?

After the school lunch video, the Los Angeles Times said what the public and many in the press were thinking: “The U.S. Department of Agriculture has 7,800 pairs of eyes scrutinizing 6,200 slaughterhouses and food processors across the nation. But in the end, it took an undercover operation by an animal rights group to reveal that beef from ill and abused cattle had entered the human food supply.” It could say the same thing today.

Martha Rosenberg’s is an investigative health reporter. Her first book,  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, has just been released by Prometheus books.

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Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

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