April 28, 2008
|Animal advocates in Washington, DC, gathered|
at HSLF's offices on Capitol Hill.
Listen to the call (6.6 MB)
More than 1,000 animal advocates in 43 states and the District of Columbia gathered at the Humane Society Legislative Fund's Party Animals events April 27 to show support for farm animals and to lend crucial backing to other pro-animal legislative efforts.
Leading the conversation was HSLF President Michael Markarian, who opened the nationwide conference call by discussing HSLF's efforts to pass laws promoting the humane treatment of farm animals, and by highlighting the recent investigation by The Humane Society of the United States that exposed the horrific abuse of crippled cows at a California slaughter plant and led to the largest meat recall in history.
Markarian also stated his belief that 2008 will go down in history as the year that the tide turned in favor of meaningful change for farm animal welfare in the United States.
"When we look back at 2008, we're going to think of this as the year that people really started making a difference for farm animals", said Markarian. "The investigation and beef recall sparked public outrage. People thought about the connectivity between how animals are treated and how we treat ourselves.
"These animals were abused in such horrible ways, and people saw these images on TV. That this was potentially tainted and diseased meat being fed to schoolchlidren, to the elderly, to the most vulnerable populations in society; it has raised awareness of the importance of this issue, the importance of how we raise animals for food."
One of the leaders in standing up for farm animals on Capitol Hill is U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-3rd/Conn.). DeLauro is a longtime animal advocate, and currently serves as chairwoman of the House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee and is a co-founder of the Congressional Food Safety Caucus.
"The Hallmark/Westland case was like a perfect storm," said Rep. DeLauro, one of the original co-sponsors of the Downed Animals and Food Safety Protection Act (H.R. 661). "It really crystallized the inhumane treatment of animals, the violation of the downer cow policy and downer cows becoming part of the food chain, and the potential for tainted beef making its way into the school lunch program. It leads me to the conclusion that the system is broken, and we need serious reform."
Rep. DeLauro was clearly affected by the images from the investigation, and she has introduced the Food Safety Recall Information Act (H.R. 5762) to further address the problem of downed animals.
|HSLF's "Party Animals" team of Jessica Feingold, |
Colleen Crinion and Melinda Fox (left to right).
"I was sickened. Downed cows tormented, kicked and abused in a shameful way. There is no excuse for this kind of cruelty and inhumane treatment."
Rep. DeLauro praised the efforts of organizations like HSLF and activists who joined the nationwide call, and underscored the importance of how groups and individuals can combine their efforts to make real change for farm animals in the halls of Congress. She called on all animal advocates to take part in the National Call-In Day for Downers on May 1.
"I want you to please consider this an official solicitation: make your voices heard. Make this issue a national priority," said Rep. DeLauro. "My colleagues in the Congress listen to what their constituents say. You have to make sure that they hear you. [Tell them] that the status quo is not acceptable. That cruel treatment of our animals cannot be standard operating procedures at any plant anywhere. None of us can afford to sit on the sidelines."
From Congress to California
Animal advocates were joined on the call by "Brian," The Humane Society of the United States' undercover investigator who helped expose the inhumane treatment of cows at a California slaughter plant -- leading to the largest beef recall in the nation's history. His voice and identity were disguised, to protect his personal safety and his ability to conduct future investigations into animal cruelty.
The work that "Brian" did revealed that slaughter plant workers routinely tormented downed dairy cows in an attempt to get them to stand up -- kicking them, jabbing them in the eye, ramming them with the blades of a forklift, and abusing them in other horrifying ways.
"USDA's inspection protocols at this plant were not focused on the protection of the live cattle that arrived and, as we saw from the recall, not focused on insuring the safety of the meat supply," said "Brian." "So many of [the instances of cruel treatment] that were captured on video could have been prevented if simple steps were taken by inspectors."
Following the investigation, the Chino, Calif., slaughter plant was shuttered, 143 million pounds of beef were recalled in the largest such action in America's history, and the mistreatment of farm animals in America was raised to a whole new level of public awareness. The HSUS slaughter plant investigation not only exposed the cruel treatment of cows, but it also revealed the threat to the safety of food fed to schoolchildren, as much of the beef from the Chino plant was used in the National School Lunch Program.
One experience in particular really drove home the importance of the issue for "Brian." He told animal advocates about his final day at Hallmark, when a pregnant cow marked for slaughter gave birth that day to a calf on her way to the killing pen. Rather than allow the mother to remain with the newborn calf, the pen manager separated the two, taking the cow to slaughter and leaving the calf behind.
"At that point I knew that it would be the last day that I worked there. I had captured so many instances of abuse, and our case was finalizing, but in my head, this kind of crystallized the need for more protection to be given, and it needed to be on a federal level on a larger scale than just individual cruelty charges brought against this plant.
"To stop these abuses requires that we all become active, so that the cows that are being born now are not going to be subjected to the type of abuses that were happening at Hallmark, and could very well be happening at other plants."
A Golden State Opportunity
The focus of the call then shifted toward a statewide ballot initiative in California which seeks to curb some of the worst abuses in agribusiness. Thanks to 4,000 California volunteers who gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures, voters in the Golden State will have the opportunity to stop cruel and inhumane treatment of animals on industrial factory farms this November.
California voters will be asked whether animals should be given basic humane treatment, or should spend nearly their entire lives in cages so small they can’t even turn around and stretch their limbs. Veal calves are chained by the neck, pigs are kept in metal cages barely larger than their bodies, hens have less space than a letter-sized sheet of paper. Voting "Yes" on the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act will help protect animals from such extreme abuse.
"Public policies need to reflect society's values," said Markarian. "We need California to pass this measure in November. We'll be urging millions of California voters to vote ‘Yes’ on November 4 to prevent cruelty to farm animals.
"There are nearly 20 million animals in these crates and cages in California, and we need to stop this abuse."
Paid for by Humane Society Legislative Fund and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. HSLF, 519 C Street, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002.