Below on this page is the "meat" of the story as presented by Katharine Mieszkowski.  I found her article on this Web site.  For the full story she wrote you can click on this link.

Extreme Acts of Animal Cruelty

The Humane Society investigator who spurred the biggest beef recall  in U.S. history speaks to Salon about his alarming undercover video.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Feb. 22, 2008

In October 2007, John Wrangler, not his real name, took a job as a livestock handler at the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif., for a salary of $8 an hour.  Working from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., six days a week, Wrangler herded cattle, many of them milked-out dairy cows, off trucks, and hustled them from pens towards the "kill box" to be slaughtered.  All in all, he helped the plant turn about 500 cows per day into meat, with much of the beef going to supply the National School Lunch Program.

In the course of the six weeks that Wrangler worked at the Southern California slaughterhouse, he witnessed extreme acts of animal cruelty and gross violations of federal food safety standards.  On his first day on the job, he watched a skinny and weak cow collapse while going up the narrow chute that leads to the kill box where animals' throats are cut.  A worker pulled the animal's tail, hoping to get it to stand up. When that failed, the worker applied a "hot shot" cattle prod to jolt the cow to its feet.  When the cow still didn't stand, another worker jumped into the chute and shot the cow in the head with a captive bolt gun, designed to stun the animal into unconsciousness.  With the cow lying in the chute out cold, the worker put a chain around its neck and attached it to a mechanical hoist, which dragged the unconscious animal to the kill box to be slaughtered and processed into meat.

Wrangler isn't an ordinary slaughterhouse worker.  He is an undercover investigator for the Humane Society of the United States, who got a job at the Westland plant and filmed the abuses with a hidden camera.  "There wasn't a formal strategy or anything like that," he says.  "You're there just doing the job, and this stuff is just happening all around you."  On Jan. 30, the Humane Society broadcast excerpts of the video on its Web site.  The next day, the United Stated Department of Agriculture suspended Westland Meat Co. as a supplier to the National School Lunch Program.  A few days later, USDA pulled its inspectors from the plant and shut down the plant, pending further investigation.  The acts of animal cruelty have led to the arrest of two meatpacking workers by Chino police.

More than two weeks after Wrangler's video caused a sensation online, the USDA issued the largest beef recall in the history of the United States: 143 million pounds of beef products, most of which has already been consumed.  About 40 percent of that meat went to the National School Lunch Program and other federal nutrition programs.  Amazingly, all of the abuses occurred with USDA inspectors on the premises.  Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer said he was "dismayed at the inhumane handling of cattle" at the plant.

Web posted:  February 22, 2008


And now Ted Slanker's Commentary . . .

The Truth of the Matter

I do not know ALL the actual details behind the real story of the Chino, California meat packing plant fiasco.  I say “real story” because with most of these cases of animal abuse in the meat packing industry the problems lie with rogue employees doing incredibly stupid things when management and USDA inspectors are not around.   The idea of "handling" a live animal with a fork lift as shown in the movie is beyond the definition of stupidity and ignorance.  It's appalling to every professional in the business.  I doubt seriously that management was aware of what was going on at the time.  If they were, they deserve whatever the USDA dishes out to them.  Already the meat recall may bankrupt them.  So if the management was not behind the actions, then I feel for them being a victim of employees they had put their trust in.

I'm not here to boost the industrialized grain-based beef trade, but other than feeding grain to livestock it has few flaws.  For starters grain-fed meats are more consistent than grass-fed meats from critter to critter and from month to month. They are more tender. They have little flavor which Americans have come to expect in their meats.  And wouldn't you know it, cattle love to be on welfare.  A feedlot is welfare.  The feed and water is right at hand and it never runs short.  It's a sweet feed (grain) that is real tasty.  So all the animals have to do is eat, drink, poop, sit around with their buddies, and sleep.  Animals love it.  I know it's not their normal environment, but living in a big city is not man's normal environment either.  How city folks do it is beyond me.  Consequently, in my point of view if you live in a city I guess you can't think it's bad for a steer to live in a feedlot.

Little do the animals know, but just like all Americans, their feedlot food is killing them slowly.  Grain destroys their health.  But fortunately for them they are slaughtered before they fall victim to all the body failures that people fall victim to when they eat the same ration.

The meat processing industry of the United States is about as good as it can be.  Not only do the meat processors focus on treating animals properly, but so does the USDA.  The rules are very strict and only an idiot would violate the rules.  Fortunately, in the meat trade idiots are a minuscule minority but just the same some show up now and then.  The penalties for their miscues and stupidity are severe.  So they get weeded out pretty fast.  The popular media doesn't report this though.  That's because there's no news in good people doing their jobs correctly.

When truckers bring cattle to most meat plants, as they pass through the gates they are handed printed instructions on how to conduct themselves in terms of animal welfare.  For instance, if they rock their load by braking too fast that can get them expelled from the plant premises.  That's just one example.  Inside the plants animals are handled with “kid gloves.”  Excited animals don't make for good eating experiences.  So everything works like a Swiss watch.  For much more on cattle handling I suggest that everyone visit Temple Grandin is a leading authority on livestock handling and she's a person everyone should know about.  She's a great lady and an incredibly famous person in the livestock business -- especially the meat trade.  Our cattle working facility was designed by her and throughout the United States way more than half of all the cattle will at one time or another pass through one of her facilities.

The Chino, California meat plant specializes in killing old cows and bulls for ground beef.  As a rule it does not process young steers and heifers for the steaks and roasts trade.  The younger animals are much stronger than old, frail cows and bulls.  Consequently since they are stronger they travel better and there are far fewer problems with moving them off trucks, through pens, and to the processing point.  On the other hand old animals can be so feeble that just the trip to town causes them to lay down and refuse to move.  Also, they can die in transport from the stress.

Old cattle are a valuable meat source.  Owners of old cattle want to sell them and get something out of what is an excellent meat source.  But sometimes it doesn't work out and problems occur.  The public doesn't understand a damn thing about the livestock business.  They have no idea why a cow may not get up.  Usually it's not from being sick, but stress.  The stress in most cases is not from man beating up on them, but a change in environment can hit them hard.  They may fall in the truck and other cattle step on them.  The list of bad things that can happen goes on and on.  Wrecks happen in the livestock business that are not under the control of the people in charge.  That's just the way it has always been and will always be.  It's a tough business.   And working with a stubborn 1500-pound animal is not easy in the best of circumstances.  If one is down in a truck, that's a real problem which usually requires a hotshot or something to "wake" the animal up.  If a hot shot makes them get up that's a good thing in terms of saving the animal for slaughter.  As for shocks, I've been shocked (as well as all the ranch hands, our children, pets, and even chickens) from accidentally touching the electric fences.   It's a wake up call for sure.  But obviously we all live through it with only a memory that we all too often reinforce because we frequently slip up while working next to the fence.

But what about the cows that are “down.”  Are they processed into meat?  Once again the rules on this are very clear.  Unless a critter can walk to the killer, they cannot be processed.  They must be put down and sent to a rendering plant.  This is true for the tiny custom kill plants scattered all over the United States as well as for the big boys.  No one wants to violate this law because to do so means that their businesses will be shut down.  Violations of meat packing regulations are not like misdemeanors.  In many cases they are automatic death sentences.  Very few businesses in the United States operate under such stringent standards.

For those who doubt this, how would you like it if the local sheriff stationed an officer in your house full time every day of the year to see if you violated any laws that might be on the books?  That's the reality of the inspected meat packing business in spite of sensational coverage by the national media and alarmists with agendas.

Americans are so disconnected from their food sources today that they don't have any idea about where their food comes from.  Consequently they don't know how the food industry works except from their experiences gained from shopping in grocery stores, from eating in restaurants, and listening and viewing "dramatic" news broadcasts.  Consequently the American public is very naive and in this age of information – too often misinformation and/or distortions rule the day.

To make absolutely sure everyone understands my position on animal abuse, I want to underscore the point that there is no reason for animal abuse by humans in the livestock arena.  At the same time though, everyone must understand that for every critter that dies prior to harvest the livestock owner loses money.  And few folks in the livestock business make more than the minimum wage, so any loss is painful.  Additionally everyone must understand that in the livestock business wrecks happen and when dealing with big animals the wrecks are WRECKS!

When incidences of animal abuse and other violations occur the USDA approach is to destroy the business at fault and put it away -- for good.  Pretty strong medicine, but for rogue outfits it is just punishment.  Unfortunately the general public doesn't realize the professional meat packing industry demands strong medicine for violators because most industry members operate well beyond minimum USDA standards.  Therefore they want to "kill off" backsliders who can undercut them in the marketplace by not meeting even the minimum standards.

No industry or large segment of humanity is going to be always perfect.  To expect perfection is idealistic and a noble goal.  But there will always be outlaws.  To judge everyone based on the outlaw minority is childish.  Overall the American food industry does an excellent job of feeding 300,000,000 people every single day of the year.  It's far from being a broken system.

Hopefully this commentary -- at least in part -- will help give some perspective to the meat business in general.

Ted Slanker

P.S.  I wonder if this John Wangler fellow bothered to go to management and the USDA inspectors to report the abuse he saw on the first day that he witnessed animal abuse?  If not, then he is just as guilty of all the animal abuse that followed in the six weeks he worked there as are those who were abusing the animals.  To tolerate abuse for one day is horrible enough.  To tolerate it for six weeks is inexcusable.  That's the view of respectable meat plants because they have zero tolerance levels for animal abuse.  ZERO.