On August 21, 2012, the USDA shut down operations at Central Valley Meat Co. in Hanford, Calif. The facility, located at the center of California’s dairy industry, slaughters California dairy cows when their milk production declines and sells their meat to make hamburger for the school lunch program. Federal regulators took the action after receiving undercover footage taken at the slaughterhouse by an animal welfare group, Compassion Over Killing.
Central Valley Meat Co. is owned by Brian and Lawrence Coelho. Asked for a comment, Brian Coelho said: “Our company seeks not just to meet federal humane handling regulations, but exceed them.”
Meanwhile, the California Milk Advisory Board keeps telling us that “Happy Cows Come From California.” In fact, the same week that the Hanford, California slaughterhouse was shut down, the Milk Board cranked up the ad campaign with a new twist. Titled “Friends,” the new ads use a happy and talkative cow to convey the unmistakable feeling that by eating California cheese and drinking California milk, you are befriending cows and taking them into your family. The tag line is “Make us part of your family.”
This is not a new ploy. Factory farm dairies have long employed the PR tactic of telling consumers that they treat their animals “just like members of their own families.” Considering the footage provided by Compassion Over Killing, I hope that isn’t true. It shows dairy cows bleeding and thrashing painfully after being repeatedly shot in the head with a pneumatic gun in bungled efforts to render them unconscious prior to killing them. One cow is shown still conscious and flailing as a conveyor lifts her by a single leg for transport to the area where her throat will be slit.
If you’ve eaten at In-N-Out Burger, you may have eaten a burger made from the flesh of a cow killed at Central Valley Meat Co. The burger chain has regularly obtained meat from this slaughterhouse, but temporarily severed ties with the company after the undercover footage came to light. After seeing the footage, USDA officials began investigating whether beef from sick cows has reached the food supply and should be recalled. The practice of sending meat to market from sick animals is illegal.
How often are dairy cows treated this badly in today’s slaughterhouses? It’s hard to know. The industry has gotten legislation passed that makes it illegal to take undercover footage of cruelty to farmed animals, so undercover investigators risk years in prison to do so.
The industry considers people who take undercover footage to be criminals and wants them jailed. But if it weren’t for such footage, we would have no idea what goes on in these plants. We’d just have the Milk Board reassuring us that they treat cows just like members of their own family.
II find it difficult to imagine that anyone could watch this footage and find it tolerable.