Humane Society Sues USDA

US - The Humane Society of the United States is to sue the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) over the recent recall of more than 143 million pounds of beef.
calendar icon 28 February 2008
clock icon 2 minute read

The Humane Society wants the USDA to close what it considers a loophole in the agency's regulations that contributed to the recall.

The recall was initiated after an HSUS investigation documented shocking acts of animal cruelty to non-ambulatory or "downer" cattle at a slaughterhouse in Chino, California.

"USDA has in recent weeks assured the public that sick and crippled cattle are not allowed to enter the food supply, but the agency's regulations actually contradict that assertion," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States.

"Unless we want yet another dramatic food scare—further eroding consumer confidence in beef and costing the private sector and the federal government tens of millions of dollars—we should not hesitate to close this legal loophole and establish an unambiguous no-downer policy that will also help protect crippled animals from egregious abuse."

Today, Thursday, Pacelle is scheduled to testify before a Senate subcommittee examining the issues surrounding the case. He will call on Congress to pass legislation to strengthen the nation's farm animal welfare laws.

The Humane Society said that because downer cattle are at a heightened risk for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)and other foodborne pathogens, USDA issued an emergency rule in 2004 to prevent downed cattle from being slaughtered for human consumption. However, in 2007, the agency quietly reversed course and relaxed its rules to permit some crippled cows to be slaughtered for human consumption.

That loophole—which fails to adequately prevent the slaughter of animals who are violently forced onto their feet long enough to pass inspection, as well some animals who go down after initial inspection—precipitated some of the most disturbing incidents documented by an HSUS investigator at the Hallmark slaughter plant, including employees routinely beating cows to try to make them stand, repeatedly electrocuting cows in the face and eyes, and almost inconceivable incidents in which they rammed animals with forklift blades and dragged them by chains.

The lawsuit alleges that the downer loophole is irrational and inconsistent with the USDA's obligations to ensure humane handling and food safety under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act. The suit also alleges that the loophole was promulgated in 2007 without adequate public notice and comment under the federal Administrative Procedure Act.

"The school lunch program should be providing safe and healthy meals for our children—not serving up sick animals or promoting animal cruelty," said Diana Crossman, a longtime HSUS member and mother of two children in Los Angeles County public school. "USDA is supposed to protect our children, and that doesn't mean telling us one thing and doing something else about allowing sick animals in the food supply."

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