June 25, 2008 / 9:22 PM / 11 years ago

Humane Society finds more downer cattle abuse

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A video showing cattle being mistreated and tormented at a livestock auction in New Mexico was released on Wednesday by the Humane Society of the United States — the latest evidence of what the organization claims is widespread abuse of livestock across the country.

The video showed sick and injured cattle — so-called downer animals — at the Portales Livestock Auction being kicked and slapped and given shocks to get them to walk. In one instance, a cow with a hyper-extended leg is shown being dragged by a tractor.

The footage was collected during visits in May.

The HSUS said its investigator reported at least three of the downed cows were later sold. However, there is no evidence to show if the meat went into school lunch programs or any other part of the food supply.

“To see the abuse of these animals after all that’s been exposed is appalling to us,” Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, told reporters. “It’s sickening behavior that has to stop.”

Randy Bouldin, owner of the Portales Livestock Auction, said he euthanizes downed animals and does not allow them to be sent to packing houses. The animals the HSUS alleges were sold could have become disabled or nonambulatory after the sale in which case the sale would have been reversed.

“There were no downed cows that went into any packing house or into the food,” said Bouldin. “I don’t know where (HSUS) got their information. They are obviously misinformed.”

The findings from the livestock auction was the third investigation made public by the Humane Society this year. Last month, it released video taken at animal auctions in four states that showed sick and injured cows lying on the ground.

A videotape released on January 30 showed Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co workers using abusive techniques to force sick and injured cattle into a slaughterhouse so they could be processed into food. The practices triggered the largest meat recall in U.S. history.

Some of the downed cattle the HSUS investigator videotaped at Hallmark came from the Portales Livestock Auction. Currently, some of the cattle sold at Portales are slaughtered and processed at Caviness Beef Packers, the top supplier of ground beef to the school lunch program, according to the HSUS.

The evidence from the video was presented to Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer on Tuesday. Pacelle urged USDA to close a “loophole” that allows downed cattle to be slaughtered in rare cases and extend the ban to auction houses and other outlets.

After a review by USDA following the Hallmark meat recall, the department said in May it will soon finalize a total ban on downer cattle from the U.S. food supply that will help prevent the mistreatment of animals and ensure meat safety.

Until then, Schafer said USDA has asked the packing industry to voluntarily ban slaughtering downer cattle that go down after initial inspection. He also denounced any chance the animals shown in Wednesday’s HSUS video were ever slaughtered.

“These cattle were too weak to rise and walk on their own, and would not have been accepted upon delivery to a slaughterhouse,” said Schafer.

Reporting by Christopher Doering; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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