Editor's Note: Greg Henderson is editor of Drovers-- a sister publication of Pork.
You may have been tending to a sick calf. Or maybe you were baling hay to feed your cows next winter when the snow will be too deep for grazing. Anyway, I doubt you took notice that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals turned 30 years old this month.
Don’t worry though, because the PETA folks had a big gala in Hollywood with a star-studded crowd and gave each other a bunch of awards. Award winners were described by award presenters as “well-deserved, sincere, tireless,” and my personal favorite, “passionate for the safety of animals.”
News reports of the event gave no mention of a rancher winning one of PETA’s awards, but I know a lot of them that are also “sincere, tireless” and “passionate for the safety of animals.” Just as well, I suppose, since I don’t imagine any of the cowboys I know would set a boot in the same place as Alec Baldwin, the event’s host, or Ingrid Newkirk.
More important is the fact that PETA’s message — however misguided — seems to be reaching more than a few folks. The message they were promoting at their 30th anniversary gig was: “Stop and think…What are you eating, what are you purchasing, where did it come from and, more importantly, what kind of suffering did that animal have to endure for your purchase or consumption?”
America’s livestock industries have worked to improve animal welfare and animal-handling techniques, many of which fall into the “common sense” category. No action short of ending animal use, however, will stop PETA’s tired campaign.
Yes, the vast majority of livestock operators practice proper animal welfare and handling techniques. The few that don’t, however, can cause great harm to your business. For instance, the exposure of inexcuseable animal cruelty at the Westland-Hallmark slaughterhouse in California that led to the nation’s largest meat recall in history was nearly 30 months ago, yet that event remains a rallying cry for animal-rights activists.
Recently, the Animal Welfare Institute sent a petition to USDA asking for changes they claim “could prevent future animal abuse in U.S. slaughterhouses.”
AWI’s petition asks USDA to order the Food Safety and Inspection Service to implement reforms, including recommending sustantially longer suspensions for repeat violators of humane treatment laws. AWI says those suspensions typically last only one day. They claim that of the 169 federally inspected plants that have been suspended for humane slaughter violations since 2005, 50 have been suspended more than once within a one-year period. Of those, 10 were suspended between three and five times in a one-year period. AWI is asking Secretary Vilsack to develop a policy of escalating penalties for each successive offense.
AWI’s petition also calls for new procedures to refer alleged instances of willful animal cruelty to state or local law enforcement for prosecution. Under present guidelines, the slaughter plant may be shut down for violations, but individual workers who commit acts of cruelty may not be penalized.
Whether or not AWI’s proposals are necessary is arguable. What shouldn’t be open to argument is the fact that we must do a better job of policing our own industries. Livestock producer groups have urged their members to always handle their animals as if they were being video recorded. But such efforts are wasted if every worker in every slaughter plant is not trained to act with the same diligence.
Every worker at every link in the chain must be “passionate for the safety of animals.”