While Pet Chat usually focuses on household pets, as a lover of all animals I couldn’t ignore the horrible plight of downed cows that has been all over the news these past few weeks. In light of this situation, I wanted to shed some light on the topic.
For those of you who haven’t heard, a shocking investigation by The Humane Society of the United States revealed the mistreatment of “downed” dairy cows - those who are too sick or injured to walk - at a Southern California slaughter plant. An undercover video showed plant workers showing complete indifference for the pain they caused as they repeatedly forced downed animals onto their feet and into the slaughter house. In the video, workers are seen kicking cows, ramming them with the blades of a forklift, jabbing them in the eyes, and applying painful electrical shocks in attempts to force these sick or injured animals to walk to slaughter.
Aside from the horrible cruelty inflicted on these animals, there is evidence that downed cattle may be at higher risk of contamination with food-borne pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella, as well as the pathogens that cause mad cow disease and intestinal anthrax. This information finally prompted action: the largest recall of meat in American history. The Westland/Hallmark Meat Company issued a full recall of more than 143 million pounds of beef produced over the last two years, including 37 million pounds that went to school-lunch programs.
The Humane Society’s undercover investigation has brought to light the cruelties that can occur in the dairy industry, an industry in which consumers are usually kept in the dark as to the conditions in which animals are raised.
There are about nine million dairy cows in the United States. The majority of these animals typically aren’t living on rolling green pastures - as we are often led to believe - but rather are confined indoors, often in tiny stalls.
In addition to breeding them for higher than normal rates of milk production, producers often inject cows with hormones to further increase their unnaturally large milk yield. Dairy cows are milked for ten months a year (including seven of their nine months of pregnancy) until their worn-out bodies begin to give in, and they’re slaughtered. Approximately 15 percent of the hamburger meat in the United States comes from “spent” dairy cows.
Although cows can live to be over 15-years-old, they’re typically slaughtered around four years of age. And, as the slaughterhouse undercover investigation revealed, dairy cows who are too sick or injured to walk to their own to slaughter can endure terrible abuses. As Californians, we should be proud that our legislators care about this issue. Following the release of the Humane Society’s undercover video, Senator Barbara Boxer and Senator Dianne Feinstein both wrote to the Department of Agriculture to urge them to conduct an industry-wide investigation. In addition, Representative Lois Capps, along with Senators Boxer and Feinstein, have co-sponsored The Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act (HR661/S394), which would ban USDA inspectors at slaughterhouses from approving meat from downed cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, and equines. The Act also requires immediate humane euthanasia for any animal that is too sick or injured to walk.
Here’s what you can do:
1. Write a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture asking for the ban of all downed cows from the food supply in order to prevent abuses such as those that were documented at the Hallmark Meat Packing Company:
Secretary of Agriculture, Edward Schafer
US Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20250
2. Try giving up milk for one week and instead drink soy milk or rice milk. Consider the fact that humans are the only species that regularly consume mother’s milk past infancy - much less the mother’s milk of another species.
3. Consider switching to a vegetarian diet or, at the very least, give up one meat meal per week. Vegetarian diets save, on average, 100 animals per year!
Now that our eyes have been opened to the cruelties that can occur in the dairy and meat industry, maybe we’ll all think twice before ordering that hamburger and shake.