It's happened again: what I clearly see as cruelty to cows caught on tape. This time at a supplier to fast food giant In-N-Out Burger, which immediately cut ties to the slaughterhouse.
It's just the latest investigation into America's meat industry to uncover horrific cruelty inflicted upon helpless farm animals. After getting a job at the slaughterhouse, an undercover investigator from the animal welfare group Compassion Over Killing spent two weeks using a hidden camera to document how workers treated the cows there.
The videotape contains images so vile that many news organizations feel they can only show brief snippets. After all, who wants to witness a dairy cow enduring a slow and agonizing death, thrashing about and bleeding after being shot over and over again with a pneumatic gun that can't seem to render her unconscious? Who wants to see an apparently still conscious cow being lifted up by one leg via a conveyor as she writhes in agony?
But, watch we must. It's vital for all of us to bear witness to injustice. It's also the responsibility of journalists to expose injustice wherever it appears, no matter how inconvenient or unappetizing, no matter how powerless the victims.
In this case we're talking about injustice to cows, sentient beings who obviously cannot speak for themselves or defend themselves. These cows have done nothing but endure pathetic lives producing milk only to have their existence ended by being stomped on and suffocated with a boot.
I for one have seen enough to say this. Americans - and the powers that be, including mainstream media - must stand up and say with a unified voice: the meat industry must change and change now!
And that means the USDA must change!
"USDA inspectors were on site while these abuses were taking place," says Paul Shapiro, the Humane Society of the United States' Vice President of farm animal protection, adding, "Why does it seem to take animal protection organizations going undercover to blow the whistle? Time and again, investigations continue revealing the all-too-common abuse endured by animals in factory farms and slaughter plants."
Why didn't the inspectors from United States Department of Agriculture notice any of these hideous activities that were as plain as day on the videotape? Were the USDA inspectors looking the other way?
I ask because there seems to be a pattern here. Several years ago, the Humane Society of the United States shot undercover video at the Hallmark slaughterhouse in Chino, California. Workers were caught on tape ramming cows with forklifts, jabbing a cow in the eye and giving cows electric shocks, all in an attempt to force the sick animals to walk to slaughter. The Humane Society's President Wayne Pacelle described it as "torture...right out of the waterboarding manual."
That scandal resulted in the largest beef recall in U.S. history because, by law, potentially diseased "downer" cows are not supposed to enter the human food chain. So, why did the USDA inspectors fail to see obvious horrors at the Chino slaughterhouse? And where were they during this latest debacle?
It all raises this question: Is the USDA more interested in promoting the meat industry than protecting the American consumer?
In the wake of the Chino slaughterhouse scandal Congressional hearings were held. Connecticut Congresswoman Rose DeLauro pointed to the shameful fact that, "It took an outside group to unveil these terrible practices." She added, "The USDA's mission is blurred."
Blurred indeed. The USDA's own mission statement speaks first of "expanding markets for agricultural products," and only later of "enhancing food safety."
In other words the USDA is charged with promoting the very industry that it's supposed to regulate. It's called a conflict of interest.
When cruelty is caught on tape the companies involved often point to the USDA inspectors implying that their very presence would imply that their business is operating appropriately. In this latest case, The Central Valley Meat Company issued a statement saying, "As a federally-inspected plant, all handling activities are also performed under the continuous inspection of USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service personnel who are empowered to take immediate action when they observe a problem. That is why these allegations are both disturbing and surprising."
Why anyone is surprised by what is purportedly happening in plain sight in their own operation is another good question.
Every few weeks, another undercover investigation by an animal welfare group (Compassion Over Killing, Mercy For Animals, HSUS, PETA) reveals mind boggling behavior towards farm animals who have just as much capacity to feel as your dog or cat. These cows have eyes, ears, hearts, and can feel pain and experience torture and suffering. The time has come to say enough. But, handwringing and polite calls for reform are meaningless without the backing of the U.S. government.
Now that an animal welfare group has exposed a really inconvenient truth on tape, the USDA is acknowledging what it calls evidence of "egregious inhumane handling and treatment of livestock." It suspended operations at Central Valley Meat Company.
Now, the U.S. government needs to investigate itself. What were the USDA inspectors stationed at the site doing? Why didn't they spot the problem? Why did an animal welfare group have to do the USDA's job for them?
Until the U.S. government develops integrity in this arena, consumers can't assume the products they buy are made with integrity. So Caveat Emptor - buyer beware! If you don't want to be a part of this horror, don't buy meat products. It just might have to take a national meat boycott to get the USDA to clean up its act.