Four months after inhumane treatment of cows revealed at a California slaughterhouse led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history, the Humane Society of the United States yesterday released new undercover videos of crippled cows at livestock auctions in four states, including Pennsylvania.
The Humane Society says the videos, showing five cows and a calf unable to stand, demonstrates a lack of federal or state oversight at auctions and stockyards - the intermediate point from farm to slaughterhouse, where regulations rules require cows to be inspected.
"This is a systemic problem that we do not have federal or state people [monitoring] the intermediate transport points," said Humane Society president Wayne Pacelle. "There is a gap in animal handling standards that needs to be addressed."
None of the animals that appeared in the video were shipped to slaughterhouses, he said.
The Pennsylvania video showed a days-old calf lying unattended and unable to walk for at least three hours at an auction in Greencastle, Pa. At other locations, cows were seen flailing about on the ground or lying in a parking lot.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said in a statement that he did not consider downed cows at auction a food safety issue, but said the images of animal cruelty were "not acceptable." The department has contacted state and industry groups to find ways to address the issue.
Pacelle said the condition of animals at auction was both a humane issue and a food safety issue.
"With no one to intervene and euthanize the animals, farmers or middlemen may purchase animals in a weakened condition and sell them to slaughter plants," he said. "Our Hallmark investigation proved that downer cows were arriving at slaughter plants - and perhaps some came directly from auctions. If no one is watching, who is to stop that from happening?"
In the case of Westland/Hallmark, a slaughterhouse in Chino, Calif., The U.S. Department of Agriculture ordered the recall of 143 million pounds of beef and shut down the plant after Humane Society video showed workers forcing cows to stand using electric prods, forklifts and water hoses. The agency said the company did not prevent the downer cows - which pose a greater risk of illnesses such as mad cow disease - from entering the food supply.
The latest video was taken over the last six weeks at auctions in Texas, Maryland, New Mexico and Greencastle, 65 miles west of Harrisburg.
The video of the Greencastle Livestock Market, the second largest livestock auction in Pennsylvania, shows a crippled male calf that had been left in a pen without medical attention, Pacelle said.
Investigators documented the calf on Monday lying in a pen for at least three hours without food, water or veterinary care before it expired, he said.
"We were concerned this animal was there in this state for this many hours," said Pacelle. "At that age, he may have starved."
Jeff Craig, president of Greencastle Livestock Market, said in an interview yesterday that he was unaware of the incident. He said his facility does not accept nonambulatory animals, but that the condition of animals can change in the stressful environment in the auction yards.
He said auction employees will take action to put an animal out of its pain if necessary.
"If they won't get up, we shoot them on the spot," said Craig, who has asked the state Department of Agriculture for inspectors to monitor the condition of animals at his and other auctions.
In addition to cattle, the livestock market auctions pigs, rabbits and poultry, serving farmers and meat plants in six states from Tennessee to New York.
State agriculture spokesman Chris Ryder said the agency did not have the authority to inspect for cruelty, which was the purview of humane officers. He said the agency inspected auctions on a quarterly basis for record-keeping and sanitation practices.