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March 14, 2009

The HSUS Applauds President Obama for New Cattle Protections

New Policy Strengthens Food Safety and Improves Animal Welfare

The Humane Society of the United States

Saturday, The Humane Society of the United States expressed thanks to President Barack Obama for personally announcing a ban on slaughtering downed cattle — those unable even to stand or walk — in the United States. The closing of the loophole improves the welfare of animals and strengthens the safety of our nation's food supply.

The announcement comes within the first 50 days of the new administration, and more than a year after The Humane Society of the United States released undercover video revealing the abuse of dairy cows at a Chino, Calif. slaughter plant — where sick and crippled animals were grossly mistreated in attempts to get them into the food system. The investigation led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history, riots in South Korea over American beef imports and eight congressional hearings.

"Finally, the federal government is putting a stop to the inhumane and reckless practice of dragging and otherwise abusing downer cows in order to slaughter them for human consumption," said Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO. "We commend President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for taking quick action to protect animals and public health, especially after the foot dragging on the issue by the previous administration."

The HSUS undercover investigation of the Hallmark/Westland slaughter plant resulted in a series of hearings as Congress demanded answers about the treatment of animals and food safety procedures at what was then one of the largest suppliers to the National School Lunch Program, affecting students in 47 states. School systems across the country pulled beef products from their menus even before the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the recall of 143 million pounds of beef produced at the plant. The recall certainly cost the meat industry and the federal government more than $1 billion, and perhaps significantly more.

The HSUS has also documented the abuse of downer cows at livestock auctions and stockyards in Maryland, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Texas and videotaped downed cattle at each stop.  Animals had been left to suffer for hours and in one instance overnight.

Former Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer announced last May that the agency would ban the slaughter of all downed animals. However, USDA never finalized the policy before President George W. Bush left office. After the HSUS investigation at Hallmark/Westland, several meat industry groups, including the American Meat Institute, reversed their long-standing opposition to a downer ban and called on the Bush administration to act.

The HSUS has pressed for a comprehensive ban on slaughtering downed cattle since before the discovery of the first cow infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease, in the United States in 2003. That discovery led the Bush administration to ban the slaughter of most downed cattle, but the policy later included a major loophole that led to the abuses and food safety risks The HSUS documented at the Hallmark/Westland plant.

The link between downed cattle and BSE is well established. Of the 19 known cases of BSE-infected animals discovered in North America, at least 15 involved downed animals.

Congress considered several measures to create a policy similar to the USDA's new comprehensive ban on slaughtering downed cattle. Sens. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Herb Kohl, D-Wis., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., were instrumental in working with USDA officials on the policy, and Sens. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Reps. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., and Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, have been leaders in the effort to ban the slaughter of downed animals. After The HSUS' investigations, many members of Congress called for reform, as did many newspaper editorial pages across the country, and hearings were conducted by Sen. Kohl and Reps. DeLauro, Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, Bart Stupak, D-Mich., and George Miller, D-Calif.

Timeline: 

  • March 14, 2009 — President Barack Obama announces a blanket prohibition on slaughtering downed cows for human consumption.
  • March 10, 2009 — President Obama signs omnibus FY 09 spending bill that includes language urging USDA to move expeditiously to finalize its proposed rule to close the downer cattle loophole.
  • Aug. 29, 2008 — USDA issues proposed rule to close the downer cattle loophole.
  • May 20, 2008 — Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer announces intention to close the downer cattle loophole.
  • Feb. 17, 2008 — USDA announces recall of 143 million pounds of beef, the nation's largest recall to date, from Hallmark/Westland Meat Co.
  • Feb. 15, 2008 — San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A. Ramos charges Daniel Ugarte Navarro with five felony counts under California's anti-cruelty statute and three misdemeanor counts alleging the use of a mechanical device to move "downer" cows, and a second worker, Jose Luis Sanchez, with three misdemeanors involving downers.
  • Feb. 5, 2008 — USDA announces it has pulled its inspectors and shut down the cattle slaughter plant that was the subject of an HSUS undercover investigation. USDA Undersecretary Dr. Richard Raymond cites "egregious violations of humane handling regulations" in pulling inspectors from the plant.
  • Jan. 31, 2008 — The HSUS urges schools in 36 states to stop serving Westland meat received through the National School Lunch Program.
  • Jan. 30, 2008 — USDA suspends Westland Meat Co. as a supplier to the National School Lunch Program and other federal nutrition programs, in response to the HSUS investigation of the plant.
  • Jan. 30, 2008 — The HSUS reveals weeks-long investigation's findings of widespread mistreatment of non-ambulatory dairy cows at a Hallmark Meat Packing Co., of Chino, Calif.
  • July 13, 2007 — USDA reverses course and alters federal regulations to permit some crippled cows to be slaughtered for human consumption.
  • Jan. 12, 2004 — USDA prohibits all downer cattle from being slaughtered for human consumption, in response to the first U.S. case of BSE discovered in Washington State.

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the web at humanesociety.org 

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