Earlier this week the Humane Society of the United States released an undercover videotape supposedly showing cows being mistreated at the Portales Livestock Auction site in Portales, N.M. The videotape suggests that injured animals were shocked and dragged by chains as workers attempted to get them into the auction ring. It was actually marked the second videotape that HSUS released involving this facility.

 On Tuesday, USDA Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer met with representatives of the animal agricultural industries and HSUS.

While HSUS' early implications were that the cows and the facility jeopardized food safety, HSUS President Wayne Pacelle, reported in a press conference Wednesday that the videotape was not direct evidence of any such thing.

The connection that HSUS was drawing was that some of the downed dairy cows at the infamous Hallmark/Westland plant came from Portales. Pacelle pointed out that "many cows sold at Portales are slaughtered now at Caviness and further processed at (Caviness's) Palo Duro plant in Amarillo." He added that Palo Duro now is a major supplier to the National School Lunch Program.

However, at the news conference Pacelle said, "We have no evidence that these cows went to the School Lunch Program or into the food chain....The issue for us (HSUS) is that this livestock auction does a lot of business with Caviness and wanted to make sure that people knew that these animals are being tormented for the purpose of commerce."

Terry Caviness told Meatingplace.com, "We do not buy non-ambulatory cattle. We do not load cattle that are down. If any animal arrives here that is down, it is euthanized." He added, "We only buy the top-end cattle, not the at-risk cattle. The cattle they were showing (on the videotape) would not be the cattle we would buy."

Meanwhile, the American Veterinary Medical Association upon learning of the HSUS Portales footage, condemned the cruelty and issued a call for stricter adherence to humane-animal-handling guidelines and standards. 

AMVA released a statement on its Web site (www.avma.org), stating that the actions shown on the videotape are “inhumane” and “unacceptable.” “The food animal production system failed these animals,” said Ron DeHaven, DVM, AVMA's chief executive officer. “Everyone involved in animal agriculture, whether on farms or in processing facilities, shares an ethical responsibility to protect the health and welfare of animals used for food production.”

DeHaven cited the need for increased veterinary oversight throughout all stages of the food animal’s lifecycle.   “In this situation, AVMA’s job is to work with all stakeholders to make sure this kind of gross negligence and abuse does not happen again,” he said.

Gail Golab, DVM, AVMA's director of the animal welfare division, emphasized the organization’s zero-tolerance toward animal cruelty. “We have worked hard, and will continue to do so, to get our policies fully integrated throughout the industry,” she said. “Those policies clearly state that anyone who deals with animals has an obligation to stop—and prevent—this type of cruelty.”