On Jan. 30, 2008, the day The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) released undercover videotapes to the media for public airing — footage that showed alleged horrific, inhumane handling and outright abuse of older cull cows in the holding pens at Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. — my life became very complicated.
I was serving in Washington, D.C., as the U.S. Department of Agriculture's undersecretary for food safety. Prior to this role at USDA, I had served as Nebraska's chief medical officer and director of regulation and licensure for more than six years, which followed 27 years of practicing family medicine in rural and urban Nebraska.
I was trained to respond to emergencies like acute appendicitis, car wrecks and infectious disease outbreaks. Three years in Washington had been a great experience, but those videos I saw pretty much assured me that I would have a new full-time job for the next week or two.
I will write eight columns for Feedstuffs in an effort to enlighten readers with the details of what happened and when and why they happened as a result of the leaked videos.
Although the columns will focus on Westland/Hallmark, the laws and regulations that governed the response could apply to any four-legged animal slaughter facility in the U.S. and will be governing responses for decades to come.
The columns will provide a deeper understanding of how seriously the Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) takes its job and how it reacts when a crisis hits. The series will be labeled Westland/Hallmark, but such incidents have happened elsewhere — just without so much fanfare drummed up by HSUS and the media.
While the videos will never be forgotten, what may have been forgotten — or never learned — will be discussed in these upcoming Feedstuffs columns.
This includes how the videos were verified as authentic, when actions were taken to enforce the rules and regulations and what laws give USDA its regulatory authorities. I will also cover how such inhumane treatment could go on undetected by FSIS and how and when a recall is requested, with what authority and why.
The topics to be further described and explained are:
1. The Federal Meat Inspection Act.
2. The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
3. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
4. Cull and non-ambulatory cows.
5. FSIS inspection of Westland/Hallmark.
6. The suspension of inspection (why and when).
7. The recall (why and what).
8. Why Westland/Hallmark?
I hope you enjoy the series and find it educational, interesting and perhaps even a little provocative.
Comments/thoughts may be sent to Feedstuffs editor Sarah Muirhead at [email protected]