In January 2008, the Humane Society of the Unites States released undercover videotape of workers at the Westland/Hallmark slaughterhouse in Chino attempting to drive seriously ill downed cattle into the slaughter line with horrendously inhumane measures. The sick cattle were pushed with forklifts, kicked and electrocuted, and even had pressurized water forced into their nostrils with hoses, by workers who were trying to force them toward the “kill box” for slaughter.
Perhaps even more shocking was the realization that the meat from these cows had been processed and had entered the food supply. Since 2004, “downer” animals – those who are so sick or injured that they cannot stand and walk on their own — have been banned for human consumption because they present a significantly increased risk of potentially fatal pathogens such as mad cow disease, E. coli and salmonella.
As a result of the Humane Society’s investigation, 143 million pounds of beef that had been processed at the Chino plant was recalled – the largest meat recall in U.S. history. Nearly a third of the beef to be recalled had been sold to the nation’s schools for children’s lunch programs, and much of it had already been eaten. Nonetheless, although individual workers were charged with abuse, the company faced no criminal charges for selling the tainted beef, despite the horrendous threat to public safety and the extraordinary monetary loss resulting from the recall. Clearly, current California law is woefully inadequate to prevent the kind of abuses that went on in the Westland/Hallmark plant and to protect the public from the risks related to beef derived from seriously ill animals.
I introduced Assembly Bill 2098 in response to this scandal for three vitally important reasons: to protect the public from potentially deadly tainted meat, to protect farm animals from cruel and inhumane treatment, and to protect the reputation of the California beef industry. California cannot allow unscrupulous slaughterhouse operators to endanger the safety of America’s food supply and engage in grotesquely cruel practices to squeeze out a few more dollars of profit.
AB 2098 is an important step toward safer food and basic decency to the animals that provide it. AB 2098 will outlaw the sale of meat from animals who are too sick or injured to be able to stand and walk for human consumption, and will impose stiff criminal penalties on those who sell such products.
While testifying in support of the measure, San Bernardino District Attorney Michael Ramos stated that had this bill been existing law, his office would have been able to prosecute the company – not just the two workers who were ordered to engage in the brutality. Californians should demand that law enforcement be given the tools they need to prevent this kind of abuse that endangers the public.
While I am pleased that AB 2098 passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee with bipartisan support by a vote of 6-1, there are still many hurdles ahead. The bill will next be considered by the Assembly Appropriations Committee, and then the full Assembly, before being considered by the Senate. I would ask everyone who cares about animal welfare, about food safety, and about protecting California jobs to contact their representatives in the State Assembly and the State Senate, as well as the Governor, to ask that they support AB 2098.
Paul Krekorian is a Member of the State Assembly for the 43rd District, which includes Burbank, Glendale and portions of Los Angeles. He is the author of AB 2098.