Yesterday, the USDA shut down operations at Central Valley Meat Co. in Hanford, Calif. The facility, located at the center of California's dairy industry, slaughters California dairy cows when their milk production declines and sells their meat to make hamburger for the school lunch program. Federal regulators took the action after receiving undercover footage taken at the slaughterhouse by an animal welfare group, Compassion Over Killing.
Central Valley Meat Co. is owned by Brian and Lawrence Coelho. Asked for a comment, Brian Coelho said: "Our company seeks not just to meet federal humane handling regulations, but exceed them."
Meanwhile, the California Milk Advisory Board tells us that "Happy Cows Come From California." In fact, the agency has just this past week once more cranked up the ad campaign with a new twist. Titled "Friends," the new ads use a happy and talkative cow to convey the unmistakable feeling that by eating California cheese and drinking California milk, you are expanding your family to include friendly cows. The tag line is "Make us part of your family."
Factory farm dairies have long employed the PR tactic of telling consumers that they treat their animals "just like members of their own families." Considering the footage provided by Compassion Over Killing, I hope that isn't true. It shows dairy cows bleeding and thrashing painfully after being repeatedly shot in the head with a pneumatic gun in bungled efforts to render them unconscious prior to killing them. One cow is shown still conscious and flailing as a conveyor lifts her by a single leg for transport to the area where her throat will be slit.
If you've eaten at In-N-Out Burger recently, you may have eaten a burger made from the flesh of a cow killed at Central Valley Meat Co. The burger chain has regularly obtained meat from this slaughterhouse but severed ties with the company yesterday after learning of the current situation. After seeing the footage, USDA officials began investigating whether beef from sick cows has reached the food supply and should be recalled. The practice of sending meat to market from sick animals is illegal.
How often are dairy cows treated this badly in today's slaughterhouses? It's anybody's guess. The industry has gotten legislation passed that makes it illegal to take undercover footage of cruelty to farmed animals, so undercover investigators risk years in prison to do so.
The industry considers people who take footage like this to be criminals and wants them jailed. I consider them heroes who are trying to return our society to a semblance of morality in the way we treat dairy cows and other livestock. Either way, I find it difficult to imagine anyone who could watch this footage and find it tolerable.
Here is the footage. Please be prepared if you watch it. It's grotesque. I don't think anyone with a heart could possibly find this tolerable.
WARNING: Video contains graphic content.
John Robbins is author of ten best-sellers, including No Happy Cows: Dispatches From The Frontlines of The Food Revolution. The recipient of the Rachel Carson Award, the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award, the Peace Abbey's Courage of Conscience Award, and Green America's Lifetime Achievement Award, John Robbins is cofounder of the Food Revolution Network, which provides information and inspiration to help you heal your body, and you world... with food. To learn more about his work, visit JohnRobbins.info.