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May 14, 2008

Investigating A Downer

Kevin E. Dayhoff

On May 7, the Humane Society of the United States held a press conference in which it showed the results of an “undercover investigation” of stockyards and livestock auctions in Texas, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and at the Westminster Livestock Auction in Carroll County.


The event was as a follow-up to the sensational video the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) released in January which documented an undercover investigation of conditions at the Westland/Hallmark Meat Packing Company in Chino, CA.


HSUS had hoped to stimulate some action on a 2002 initiative in which Congress directed the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) “to investigate the question of downed animals at livestock auctions and markets.”


If anything, that video called into question the tactics of the HSUS. The video “documented” an incident that was alleged to have happened four months earlier in October.


Wayne Pacelle, president of the HSUS said: “This torture is right out of the waterboarding manual.” He exclaimed: “Our government simply must act quickly both to guarantee the most basic level of humane treatment for farm animals and to protect (America) from potentially dangerous food” – after the HSUS sat on the video for four months as product from the plant continued to flow into our nation’s food supply.


In February the USDA ordered the recall of 143 million pounds of beef that came from the Chino plant in the four months the HSUS failed to produce the video. HSUS had hoped “the largest meat recall in U.S. history” would get Congress moving.


USDA Secretary Ed Schafer said the recall was the result of “one cow that we know of went down just before moving into the gate, and we were supposed to be notified and were not,” in spite of a 2004 government requirement.


In a statement released May 7, Livestock Marketing Association president Jim Santomaso pointed out America’s 1,200 livestock marketing businesses handled, according to government figures, 35.6 million head of cattle and calves in 2006.”


Undaunted, HSUS’s next step was to attempt to prove that state regulations of the livestock industry are inadequate.


On April 7 Mr. Pacelle claimed the “undercover investigation” – which included the Westminster Livestock Auction (WLA) – showed the “shocking abuse of ‘downer’ cows occurs, not just at slaughter plants, but may be an everyday happening at livestock auctions and stockyards around the country… Animals are “left to suffer for hours and in one instance overnight.”


In the carefully choreographed press conference, Mr. Pacelle played the “undercover” video at the WLA and exclaimed: “This is just pitiful… This poor creature, too weak to move, just left there to languish and to die…”


In the first seconds of the HSUS video, a cow that is unable to walk is filmed in the unloading gate at WLA April 22.


In a follow up interview a day after the HSUS press conference, Jim Horak, Sr., the owner of the WLA since 2004, explained that a hired trucker unloaded the cow at a busy moment that evening, just as “the man who handles the gate was (away) moving other cattle that had just been unloaded.”


When the “gatekeeper” returned, just after the cow was unloaded, he found the cow “down.” Upon being told that the WLA did not accept livestock that cannot walk, the driver refused to take the cow back and quickly left.


The cow was immediately, and “carefully,” moved outside of the gate and offered alfalfa hay, according to Mr. Horak. Meanwhile the owner of the cow was notified that the WLA would not accept delivery of the cow and that the owner had to come back and pick up the animal. The owner refused.


“They were not here to buy or sell anything – the cow was placed here to cause trouble,” concluded Mr. Horak.


Mr. Horak states he has handled thousands of animals and no one – until the HSUS – has ever questioned him before about how the yard handles animals.


Indeed, one of the immediate mysteries about this incident is how is it an HSUS undercover investigator just happened to be there for the “minutes” this one particular cow, out of thousands of animals, was still in the unloading chute?


The fact that the cow was humanely moved is obvious. One of the most important advocacies of the HSUS is that diseased and sick cows are being inhumanely “dragged and prodded with inhumane handling methods, and increasing the threat of carrying and passing disease.”


One can be sure that if the cow had been handled inhumanely, it would have appeared on the HSUS “undercover” video.


Later, “Fox 5” TV reported that it discovered that HSUS knew the cow was not sick or diseased and – in fact – knew the cow had just had an operation for a twisted stomach and was in a post-surgical weakened state. Not only was that information not revealed by HSUS at the press conference, but one has to wonder just how the HSUS knew that information in the first place?


Moreover, Mr. Horak says that in spite of the fact that it could not stand (because of the surgery,) the cow was not in distress. A fact which is proven in the HSUS video, which one can be sure was edited to show the worse.


As far as the cow staying out overnight, that’s what cow’s do. They rarely if ever come into the farmhouse to watch TV at night. Furthermore, an employee checked on the cow at daybreak the next morning and gave it water and hay.


The cow died because hours later the HSUS called the local humane society which came out and shot the cow. The HSUS then put a picture of the dead cow on their press release.


In a statement a week ago, the Maryland Department of Agriculture said it is investigating. Hopefully what they investigate is the HSUS’s “undercover investigation.”


Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at:



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