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Cargill, National Beef Packing Engaged in Inhumane Practices

May 1, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

In the wake of this year’s Hallmark/Westland meat recall, representing the largest such recall in US history, the Associated Press (AP) is reporting that two of this country’s largest meat processors, “were slapped with humane handling violations.”  The violations were discovered during a governmental review as part of the National School Lunch Program.

Earlier this year, Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company recalled 143 million pounds after plant workers were caught on videotape forcing unfit cattle into slaughter.  At least 37 million pounds of that meat was used for school lunches and federal nutrition programs, according to the USDA.  The recall came three weeks after the Humane Society of the US released videotapes from an undercover investigation exposing Hallmark/Westland workers abusing sick and injured cattle.  Meat from "downer" cattle—animals too ill or injured to walk—is not generally released into the food supply to help prevent against the deadly, brain-wasting “mad cow” disease.  The Hallmark/Westland cattle were unable to stand at the time of slaughter, although they passed inspection earlier.  When this occurs, packers are required to alert USDA veterinarians so they can decide if the animal can be slaughtered for food.

Meanwhile, recent audits conducted by the Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and prompted by the Hallmark/Westland recall, found National Beef Packing Company plant in Dodge City, Kansas and a Cargill Meat Solutions plant in Fresno, California to be in "noncompliance."  Also, 18 slaughterhouse audits revealed cattle were not always initially properly stunned, some were overcrowded, and others required electric prodding.  One violation was so serious that it led to a temporary suspension.

The FSIS temporarily shut down Martin's Abattoir and Wholesale Meats in Godwin, North Carolina, for “insufficiently stunning animals” and “failing to make them insensible to pain on the first attempt.”  The FSIS also issued a noncompliance order to Dakota Premium Foods—South St. Paul, Minnesota—for “excessive bunching up of cattle going into the stunning area.”  The FSIS also cited National Beef for “overcrowded holding pens.”

FSIS officials said that in reviewing 36 animals at Cargill, virtually all refused to enter the restraint; an electric prod had to be used on 10.  Three still refused and required stunning and being rendered unconscious "so that they could be pulled through the restrainer to be shackled, hung and bled," the noncompliance record states.  Cargill spokesman Mark Klein said the prods did not have batteries, so there was no electric current and that it was the audit process that caused the problems.  "We believe the reason for the animals balking, or not moving forward," he said, "was that there were too many people present during the audit, distracting the animals,” citing two or three additional government people and three or four additional Cargill employees.

The FSIS disagreed saying, “That's just not the case," said Eamich, the FSIS spokeswoman. "Our auditors are trained, they know how to conduct audits, to allow business to go on as usual, just as if some of our inspectors were there.  It's really no different."


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