Monday, February 11, 2008

My Daughter Eats Downer Cows

January 30's Washington Post discussed videos, taken with a hidden camera by a Humane Society investigator posing as a slaughterhouse worker, of illegal, abusive practices used to rouse "downer cows" for USDA inspection.
Video footage being released today shows workers at a California slaughterhouse delivering repeated electric shocks to cows too sick or weak to stand on their own; drivers using forklifts to roll the "downer" cows on the ground in efforts to get them to stand up for inspection; and even a veterinary version of waterboarding in which high-intensity water sprays are shot up animals' noses -- all violations of state and federal laws designed to prevent animal cruelty and to keep unhealthy animals, such as those with mad cow disease, out of the food supply.
The relevant Humane Society videos, titled "HSUS Investigates Slaughterhouse" and "Downer Cows Update," can be viewed here.

Hallmark Meat Packing, in Chino, CA, supplies Westland Meat Co., which in turn provides commodity beef (100 million pounds over the past 5 years) for school lunch programs across the country, as well as supplementary food programs for low-income and elderly citizens.

Apart from the question of utterly inhumane treatment of cows, use of downer animals increases the likelihood of a) eating meat from a seriously diseased animal, including one with BSE ("mad cow disease") and b) fecal contamination of the carcass from being dragged through manure and across dirty floors. Allowing such meat to be offered for sale, let alone giving it away to our schoolchildren and most vulnerable populations, is a major public health and safety risk.

I have a schoolchild. She eats commodity beef in her lunches frequently, lunches that we get for free because we're low-income enough. There's certainly plenty of good-quality, local beef here in Montana; but the cost to the school system, compared to what they can receive via USDA, is prohibitive. Right after the WaPo article came out, the story was covered, front-page, by my local newspaper.
About 37,000 pounds of Westland ground beef was delivered to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services’ food commodity warehouse in September, and much of it was distributed to schools, senior centers, homeless shelters and food banks throughout the state, Hank Hudson, the agency’s human and community services administrator, said Friday.


Bob Burrows, support services supervisor for the Bozeman School District, said the district had about 130 cases of the Westland beef on hand.

The meat will not be used, but the USDA order will not impact the district’s lunch program, which dishes out about 2,200 lunches daily, at all.

“I’m not worried about it in the least,” Burrows said. “We have other supplies that are not part of this. And the meat has not been recalled, that’s important to note.”
The meat has not been recalled. What a relief.


Anonymous said...

That's awful. I encourage you to write to Mr. Burrows, who isn't worried and should be, and your local newspaper and also to encourage other parents to write. Let those meat-choosing folks know they are being watched.

thirdinstar said...

School lunch programs really don't have a lot of choice when it comes to free or nearly-free commodity items; they have to feed kids for a very low cost per lunch, and, if they use their USDA-provided meat, cheese, flour, potatoes, then they can use their funds for things like fruits and vegetables. Until we change a lot of other aspects of federal policy, school districts will be limited in their ability to respond to parent demands.

Burrows has been helpful to us in other areas; I did find his professed lack of concern about this disconcerting, but what's the alternative? Announce that he knows he's feeding the children questionable food, but there's nothing he can do about it?