Salon Article On The Making Of The Humane Society Slaughterhouse Video

This is going to be short, since I have a ton of stuff to do today before I go to work.

Salon has a good article up today about the man who went undercover and worked at the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company slaughterhouse for six weeks where he continually witnessed acts of extreme animal cruelty. He also witnessed plenty of “downer” cows–cows too injured or sick to walk– enter the US food supply, most of them going to the Federal School Lunch Program.

The article is short, but to the point, and worth reading, if nothing else for the Humane Society’s reply to the frequent assertions by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Beef Industry Food Safety Council, that the sorts of cruelty and flagrant violation of food safety and animal protection laws shown in the video are just an isolated incident in one slaughterhouse, among “a few bad apples” among the workers. (Hey, isn’t that what the US military said was going on at Abu Ghraib? Isolated incidences of torture, perpetrated by a “few bad apples?” Upper management always tries to weasel out of getting blamed.)

When asked what he thought of these assertions, Wayne Pacelle, the president of the Humane Society was unconvinced:

The Humane Society, he attests, had not been tipped off to abuses at the plant. “This plant was selected at random,” he says. “There are 6,200 facilities across the country that USDA inspects. We chose this one and found egregious abuses. There is no way that these groups can say that everything is safe.”

I have to come down on the side of Wayne Pacelle and the unnamed undercover videographer on this one.

If the slaughterhouse was chosen at random, then there is absolutely no shred of evidence to support the industry’s official party line that this was an isolated incident. Americans should meet any such assertion with the skepticism it deserves, and should demand accountability.

And, while we are at it, let’s stop eating so damned much cheap beef. It just isn’t worth it.


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  1. I totally agree.
    How many “isolated instances” before America acknowledges the food crisis?

    Much like you I let my money speak for me and it is not going into the pockets of large commercial farming operations.


    Comment by KCatGU — February 22, 2008 #

  2. Salon seems to have pulled the article, at least for the moment. From what I can see on Google, there are several articles now, some critical of the Human Society for “holding” the video.

    I don’t know the context of the current “discussion” but it seems the industry is doing what it can to discredit the whole affair…

    Comment by Mike Dunham — February 22, 2008 #

  3. So much for the “it was just that one place, and those workers are getting punished” theory espoused by several people I know who continue to buy cheap meat.

    I wish I knew a way to convince them to eat less meat, and to buy local, free range meat (which is available in this area). But if that video won’t do it, then I don’t know what will.

    Comment by Karyn — February 22, 2008 #

  4. Or at least eat organic, free-range no hormone beef.

    Stop wild fires AND eat healthier – back to the ranges!

    Comment by donna — February 22, 2008 #

  5. Where is locally produced beef slaughtered? I thought the USDA regulations made it all-but impossible for small farmers to slaughter their own meat?

    Comment by molly — February 22, 2008 #

  6. Molly–local, organic, grassfed beef is generally slaughtered in small, local facilities.

    One of the problems with large slaughterhouses is that they push their workers to kill and butcher as many animals per day as possible, for maximum profit.

    Smaller slaughterhouses–and I have visited the one close to Athens–are much smaller in scale, and as such, they take the time to treat the animals with decency and care.

    The ones around here are also much cleaner than the bigger ones. Local inspectors are much tougher than the federal ones, -and- they show up more often, so the workers really work hard to keep stuff clean.

    Comment by Barbara — February 22, 2008 #

  7. Mike-the article is up now.

    Comment by Barbara — February 22, 2008 #

  8. Hear, hear!

    I buy my meat from local ranches, and buy mostly grass-fed beef. When I don’t, I sometimes buy from the hallal butchers in my neighborhood, as I figure humane slaughter practices are more likely with those meats than elsewhere.

    Comment by Diane — February 23, 2008 #

  9. If there was ever a contradiction in terms it’s gotta be: Humane Slaughter
    Eating MEat – grass fed, locally raised or not – the animal still faces a cruel and uncessary end. Meanwhile, carnivors are denying enviornmental impact, world starvation, deforestation, manure contaminants, greenhouse gasses, huge amounts of fossil fuels to process & transport these carcasses – Did I mention the waste of precious water and threats to personal health via BST?
    For health & heart…. Go Vegan!

    Comment by Provoked — February 23, 2008 #

  10. For health & heart…. Go Vegan!

    A vegan diet is not appropriate for all individuals. A person with a classic anaphylactic allergy to soybeans, peanuts, or tree nuts should not go vegan. Nor should a person who is gluten intolerant. Nor should some diabetics.

    A vegan diet works very well for some people, and I’m glad it’s an option. But choosing to not eat animal products does not mean one can ignore the conditions in slaughterhouses and on farms. There are too many people who *need* the food that comes from a slaughterhouse. And that means that slaughterhouse needs to be humane, clean, and safe.

    Comment by Emily Cartier — February 23, 2008 #

  11. We grow beef, and we stopped eating commercial beef a long time ago. But if you think beef production is disgusting, you really ought to research chicken and pork. Unfortunately, the factory farm model results in terrible living conditions for these poor animals for their entire lives, compared to commercial cattle, which at least get to spend a good portion of their lives outside. We never buy or eat chicken or pork, either.

    My advice: try to find a local farmer for your beef ( and both facilitate searches by location), or find a small family rancher that ships by searching for keywords like “grass fed beef” or “organic beef.” A time investment now will pay off with a safe source of meat for years to come. If you really don’t want to spend time looking, you are certainly welcome to check out our organic grassfed beef!

    I think the keys are “small” and “family-owned and operated.” Why small and family? Well, atrocities like we’ve seen on the news occur primarily at large processing facilities. I think that when workers process 400 head an hour in an industrial processing plant, they simply become numb to the fact that they are working with a live animal.

    Small ranchers like us usually use small packing plants where perhaps 15-30 beef are killed in a day. At our processor, because it is USDA inspected, each and every animal is inspected before and after slaughter. In addition, animals are processed one at a time, and so there is no “line speed” to try to keep up with.

    Finally, most small ranchers have an attitude of old-fashioned husbanding toward their livestock. While you can sometime find an abusive operator, most small farmers and ranchers who have livestock do so because they like animals (if they don’t they generally become crop farmers). Before we started using this processor, my husband spent a day watching them to make sure the animals were humanely treated. We spend two years treating these cattle well; we believe it is simply wrong for their last few hours to be stressful or painful.

    Small ranchers that sell direct to the public also generally have a sense of responsibility to their customers. You cannot hide behind anonymity to avoid personal responsibility when you sell directly to people. We have a number of customers with serious health issues that purchase our beef because they have compromised immune systems. We take that confidence very seriously. And as parents ourselves, we want to produce something that others can feel good about feeding their children.

    Comment by Caryl — February 23, 2008 #

  12. Thank you Caryl! We have to support small ranchers who are committed to sustainable animal husbandry. Here in Colorado, we have grassfed beef and buffalo available locally. When I can afford it, I purchase from Lasater Grasslands Beef and Buffalo Groves (organic, free range buffalo). Both are on the eastern plains of Colorado. The Lasater ranch is a wildlife and ecological preserve, and is THE Hallmark for sustainable, environmentally responsible ranching. They do not kill predators, but manage them through non-lethal means, and their range land is some of the most beautiful that you will ever see in the area (the surrounding ranches cannot compare).

    Buffalo Groves is about 2 hours south of Lasater in Kiowa and produces amazing buffalo. Buffalo are easier to raise than beef cattle, as they will find their own food and water even in the winter–it’s 90% hands off.

    The processing plant that is used is for free range cattle only (mostly beef and buffalo, but they also process lamb and goat), so it is smaller, but does a healthy amount of business for its size.

    More attention needs to be brought to factory farming and how destructive it is, to people, animals, and the environment.

    Comment by Roxanne — February 24, 2008 #

  13. Caryl thinks “it is simply wrong for their last few hours to be stressful or painful.”

    It also makes the meat or fowl less tasty. As I read it (Harold McGee? Julia Child?), meat needs to pass through rigor mortis (and ideally be aged afterward) to have good taste and texture. Meat that was flooded with stress hormones right before it was killed won’t get properly ‘rigored.’

    So what we have here is a case of what’s most pleasant for the animal is also best for the seller’s reputation and the buyer’s taste buds. A three-fer!

    On the scale stretching from mass-producers (Hormel, Tyson’s) to raise your own, where does Whole Food’s own label meat lie? I’m interested in both living conditions and slaughtering practices. There’s a fair deal of information on the WF website but I’d like a more disinterested source.

    Comment by Harry — February 25, 2008 #

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