Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters
Prosecutor Files Cruelty Charges Against Slaughter Plant Employees
Two employees of the now shuttered Hallmark Meat Company were charged yesterday with animal cruelty in the aftermath of shocking disclosures from an undercover investigation by The HSUS. Never before in the knowledge of The HSUS have slaughter plant workers faced criminal charges of this nature.
"Americans know cruelty when they see it, and the HSUS investigation has outraged millions," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. "The suffering of animals shown in the HSUS video is beyond comprehension."
After being provided videotaped evidence and a detailed report of the undercover investigation, San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A. Ramos charged Daniel Ugarte Navarro with five felony counts under California's anti-cruelty statute and three misdemeanor counts alleging the use of a mechanical device to move "downer" cows, those unable to stand on their own. Convictions on the felony charges could bring a sentence up to 15 years in prison and $100,000 in fines, plus additional penalties on the misdemeanor charges. The second worker, Jose Luis Sanchez, was charged with three misdemeanors involving downers. He faces up to 18 months in jail and $3,000 in fines if convicted.
"I need the public to understand that my office takes all cases involving animal cruelty very seriously," Ramos said in a statement. "It doesn't matter whether the mistreated animal is a beloved family pet or a cow at a slaughterhouse. Unnecessary cruelty will not be tolerated and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent allowed by law."
The filing of these charges marks a milestone because U.S. farm animals are normally denied — either on account of legal loopholes, cultural disregard or by virtue of being kept out of public sight — the most basic protections afforded other creatures.
"We applaud District Attorney Ramos for taking decisive action in bringing felony counts against people who abused animals in these heinous ways," added Pacelle. "He knows that this sort of cruelty can never be tolerated, and because of his decision to prosecute, justice is being served in this case."
Beyond today's actions, The HSUS urged law enforcement authorities to aggressively pursue any possible leads that point to culpability by the company itself and its senior executives.
Hallmark principally slaughters "spent" dairy cows for the Westland Meat Co., which was the nation's No. 2 supplier of ground beef for the National School Lunch Program. Many of these animals were unable to stand and walk, as the investigation graphically shows.
An HSUS investigator filmed slaughterhouse employees routinely beating cows to try and make them rise. Cows were repeatedly shocked in the face and eyes with cattle prods, and even rammed with the blades of a forklift. This abuse was inflicted on these feeble animals in efforts to make them lumber to their feet just long enough to be slaughtered — this, despite the known risks that such animals may carry bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or "mad cow disease").
So far, as a consequence of the HSUS investigation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has removed inspectors from the plant, effectively shutting it down. Meat from the plant was put on "administrative hold." More than 150 school districts across the nation pulled meat from cafeteria menus, and two major restaurant chains have severed ties with the slaughter plant. Economists can only speculate as to the considerable costs thus far in lost credibility to federal regulators, investigative expenses and the additional price tag for providing replacement food.
Cruelty charges against Hallmark employees were brought under California's animal protection law which prohibits maiming, mutilating, torturing or wounding an animal. Cal. Pen. § 597(a) Employees were also charged with violating state law which prohibits using a mechanical device to push or drag cows who are unable to stand or walk. Such animals must be humanely euthanized or removed. Cal. Pen. § 599(f)
Hallmark Slaughter Plant Manager Convicted of Felony Animal Cruelty
June 20, 2008 HSUS
CHINO, Calif.— Today, the pen manager who oversaw some of the worst documented abuses of downed animals at the now infamous Hallmark Meat Company pled guilty to two counts of felony animal cruelty and two misdemeanor counts of cruelty to downed animals. San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A. Ramos charged Daniel Navarro with animal cruelty in the aftermath of shocking disclosures from an undercover investigation by The Humane Society of the United States.
"We applaud District Attorney Ramos for obtaining a felony conviction against one of the key players in the gross abuse of cows at the Hallmark slaughter plant," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. "Because of his decision to prosecute this case vigorously, justice is being served in this case. We hope the judge now imposes an appropriately strong sentence."
In the plea deal accepted today, Navarro was convicted of two felony counts of animal cruelty under California Penal Code section 597(b), and two misdemeanor counts of unlawfully moving a downed animal under section 599f(c). Navarro faces sentencing on August 25, 2008, which includes mandatory counseling, probation for three years which includes a prohibition on contact with animals, and the possibility of jail time. The conviction marks a milestone because animals raised for meat, eggs, and milk in the United States are normally denied — either because of legal loopholes, cultural disregard or by virtue of being kept out of public sight — the most basic protections afforded other animals.
Hallmark principally slaughtered "spent" dairy cows for the Westland Meat Co., which was the nation's No. 2 supplier of ground beef for the National School Lunch Program. Many of these animals were unable to stand and walk. An HSUS investigator filmed slaughter plant employees routinely beating cows to try to make them rise. Cows were repeatedly shocked in the face and eyes with electric prods, and even rammed with the blades of a forklift. This abuse was inflicted on these feeble animals in efforts to make them lumber to their feet just long enough to be slaughtered — this, despite the known risks that such animals may be harboring foodborne pathogens such as E. coli 0157:H7 and Salmonella, or even infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or "mad cow disease").
Cruelty charges against Hallmark employees were brought under California's animal protection law that prohibits maiming, mutilating, torturing or wounding an animal. Cal. Pen. § 597(b). Employees were also charged with violating state law, which prohibits using a mechanical device to push or drag cows who are unable to stand or walk. Such animals must be humanely euthanized or humanely removed. Cal. Pen. § 599(f). The state legislature is considering several bills to strength farm animal protection laws, including A.B. 2098 by Assemblyman Paul Krekorian.
The HSUS conducted its six-week undercover investigation at the federally-inspected slaughterhouse facility during the fall of 2007, and HSUS attorneys worked closely with the District Attorneys' Office to help secure the conviction.
Evidence of cruelty provided on The HSUS videotape includes:
As a result of The HSUS investigation, the nation's largest-ever meat recall was initiated. On May 20, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer announced that he would ban any downer cattle in the food supply, closing a loophole that The HSUS investigation exposed.
Comment: The atrocities inflicted upon these living, feeling beings demonstrate the callous and cruel nature of man. We are tyrants. Animals deserve the same kindness and respect we all want for ourselves. These creatures aren’t just meat without mentation; they are individuals who feel pain, who want to live. We can’t turn a blind eye to the horrors of the meat industry, to the millions who’ve sacrificed their lives so we can feast off their flesh.
And if one looks at the impact of our actions on a broad scale, it’s like so many great minds have said throughout history, we will never have Peace on Earth.
As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields. Leo Tolstoy
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Late last year, some factory-farm employees got their pink slips from Aviagen Turkeys, Inc. in response to PETA's undercover investigation, which documented that workers were breaking turkeys' necks, stomping on their heads, and shoving feces and feed into turkeys' mouths.
Then, in February, a grand jury handed down 19 indictments, including 11 felony charges, against three former Aviagen workers, marking the first time in U.S. history that factory-farm employees have faced felony cruelty-to-animals charges for abusing birds.
Fast forward: Two of the three ex-employees, Scott Alvin White and Edward Eric Gwinn, recently pleaded guilty to cruelty charges. On June 8, White was sentenced to serve one year in jail—the maximum period permitted by law! Today, Gwinn was sentenced to serve six months' home confinement—the maximum period permitted by law—on each count, concurrently, and is banned from living with, owning, and working with animals for five years. The case against the third ex-employee, Walter Lee Hambrick, is pending.
Can't get enough? In September, a grand jury in neighboring Monroe County, West Virginia, may well issue further felony indictments against White and Hambrick.
These historic victories by no means even the score for the turkeys who were punched and thrown or the many other birds who suffered when they were forced to watch as other turkeys were abused at Aviagen. After watching our undercover video, animal behavior expert Dr. Lesley J. Rogers stated, "It is now known that when social animals, like turkeys, see and hear other members of their species under stress or suffering physical injury, their levels of stress become elevated. Hence, the behavioural stress is widespread in the birds in the vicinity of those that have been injured and/or handled roughly."
Still, these convictions will remind workers on other factory farms that if they don't clean up their acts, PETA investigators (and the whistleblowers who tip us off) will have their eyes on them.
Comment: Animal cruelty is a vile crime and we must push for stiffer penalties for any and all who commit these atrocities. Get active! Speak out! Do what's right - there are laws and then there are ethics and moral issues to consider. Go vegan!
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Read more: Ag-gag laws, farm animal protections