Sep 14

“Downer Cows, the Meat Supply, and You”

Dumping contaminated meat, O'ahu, Hawai'i

On March 4, 2008, about 17 tons of potentially tainted and dangerous meat was dumped at the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill on the Waianae Coast of O’ahu.  We have photos and video of the dumping of the meat.

Dumping the meat

According to media reports, Hawaii school cafeterias were instructed to store any raw and/or frozen beef they might have received from Westland/Hallmark Meat Packing Co., which supplies meat the USDA distributes to schools, needy families, and seniors.

Contaminated Meat Dumped in Landfill, O'ahu

The uncertainty regarding the safety of the meat came to light as the result of an undercover video investigation by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), in which workers kicked and shocked “downer” cows, forcing them into a federally-inspected slaughterhouse.  The video shows workers jabbing cows in their eyes and torturing them in various other ways.  In order to dominate animals and commodify them, humans must disconnect from their suffering.

This explains the worker’s cruelty.  Animals are reduced to mere objects from which enormous profits are gained.

“Downers” are so sick and/or injured they cannot walk to slaughter, and are considered a higher risk of carrying diseases, including Mad Cow Disease.  A few years ago, Congress enacted legislation prohibiting slaughterhouses from accepting animals unless they arrive alive and ambulatory.  However, as this and other undercover videos demonstrate, “downers” are still entering the American food supply.

Is the Meat Safe to Eat?

Are Hawaii's children eating diseased meat?

The media reports that neither the USDA nor the Hawai’i State Department of Education knows how many children may have eaten this meat.  However, the government believes most of the meat has already been consumed as part of the School Lunch Program.  That is not very reassuring, is it?   A March 6, 2008 article in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin entitled “Beef Recall Bungled, Some Say,” it is reported that the School Nutrition Association and child nutrition directors complained, “We did not have the information we needed to respond to the many questions we immediately received from very concerned parents.”

What About Hawaii’s Keiki?

Did Hawaii”s children consume diseased meat? Considering the potential health risks, why didn’t the government do more to protect our children?

It’s a sad fact that shocking, prodding and torturing sick and dying animals as shown in the undercover video, trying to force them to walk into slaughterhouses, is not an isolated incident.  Knowing that, isn’t it strange that the government moved so quickly to dump this meat in the landfill?  It is important to realize that sick, non-ambulatory cows, the so-called “downers”, are at a higher risk of carrying the deadly prion proteins which are the agent for Mad Cow Disease.

A "prion" (infectious agent, Mad Cow Disease)

A "downer" cow, too sick to walk to slaughterhouse

That is why “downers” are not supposed to enter the food supply.  However, the greedy meat industry still tries to get money even for sick animals, and this is proven by the undercover video.  Over the past decade or so, the U.S. has tested less than two (2) percent of “downer” cows for Mad Cow Disease, and the U.S. continues to violate World Health Organization Guidelines on Mad Cow Disease.  The USDA reports that only about 20,000 cows were tested for Mad Cow Disease in 2004, yet about 40 million cows are slaughtered each year.

Before burying the meat, did our State or City government test it to see if it is contaminated with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as Mad Cow Disease?  There have been no reports that the meat was tested at all.

Slaughterhouse worker and cow

We believe parents should be asking the government the following questions:

1.   Was the meat tested for Mad Cow Disease? If not, why?

2.   Why did the government not inform parents about the tainted meat which may have been consumed by their children?  Parents found out about this situation only through reports in the media.

3.   Why did the government not send letters to parents, explaining what they should look out for in terms of symptoms of Mad Cow Disease or other types of illnesses/diseases which could have come from eating the meat?

4.   Why hasn’t the government set up a program to monitor the children’s health, to ensure they haven’t been infected?

It seems that the government is not telling us everything.  Is the government perhaps more concerned about getting reimbursed by the federal government for the discarded meat than they are with the health of our children?

Sick and dying cows at slaughter facility

This is no longer “someone else’s problem” — it is now sitting squarely on each child’s lunch plate!  This meat was distributed not only to Oahu schools, but to schools on neighbor islands as well.  This is a frightening situation.  Clearly, Americans should not feel secure when safety regulations are not enforced and the meat enters the schools.

Bury the Meat in Waimanalo Gulch Landfill?

The meat was dumped in the landfill and covered with about 6 inches of dirt.  Was that an adequate means of disposal?

Perhaps the government chose not to incinerate the meat at H-POWER because laboratory experiments have shown that deadly prions can be inhaled.  If diseased meat had been incinerated at H-POWER, it could have entered the atmosphere.  Could it then affect nearby residents and landfill workers?  Mayor Hannemann is quoted in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (“Mayor Slams Hanabusa on Dump”) as saying, “Were the landfill not in existence, what would we in Oahu have done?”  Put it in the pristine waters of the ocean?  Find a park somewhere?  Feed it to the animals?  My goodness, it would have been a catastrophic event.”

What about pollution control?  We must remember that even when meat infected with Mad Cow Disease is incinerated at 1,500 degrees centigrade, the infectious agent, the prion protein, is not destroyed.  Therefore, the fact that this meat is sitting in the landfill for an unknown number of years is not reassuring.

The Largest Recall in U.S. History

Cow infected with Mad Cow Disease

This massive recall, the largest in U.S. history, illustrates the USDA’s inability to effectively regulate the meat industry, and the American public is thus not being protected from potentially deadly meat contamination.  Media reports on March 6, 2008 indicate that the recall involved a staggering 143 million lbs. of beef.  Without the undercover video by the animal welfare organization, the USDA presumably would not even have been aware of the situation.  In fact, even if a USDA inspector catches a company breaking the law, the USDA lacks the authority to recall meat; all it can do is request a recall.  Westland/Hallmark Meat Packing Co. voluntarily agreed to pull all its raw and frozen beef products.

 Other Dangers

In addition to the dangers posed by prions and Mad Cow Disease, the meat (as well as cheese and milk) which is served by many schools is contributing to the obesity epidemic of our children, which leads to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and some forms of cancer.  The USDA purchases hundreds of millions of lbs. of beef, pork, and other animal products as a means of removing surpluses and boosting industry profits.   The system makes it difficult for food service directors to choose healthier foods when hot dogs are essentially free. Second, between 1995 and 2004, nearly 3/4 of the entire U.S. expenditure for agricultural subsidies ($62 billion) went to feed crops and direct aid supporting meat and dairy production, while less than 1% went to subsidizing fruit and vegetable production.  Thus, meat and dairy products are less expensive to produce, giving them the “edge” in the marketplace.  Our own Hawai’i legislature appropriates huge amounts of taxpayer money to “prop up” the non-sustainable meat and dairy industries here as well.  And, Hawai’i slaughterhouses have a history of cruelty violations.  Horrendous cruelty is the hallmark of industrialized agriculture, and the USDA hopes consumers don’t know.

Will Hawaii’s legislators be willing and able to transform social values of kindness and compassion into effective legislation, or will they continue to support those businesses that exploit animals, including the meat and dairy industries?  If not for the animals, will they do it for our children?


-By Pam Davis, President, Animal Advocate Inc.