Saturday, February 9


As the fallout continues to spread from the HSUS downed-cow video bombshell, the issue I raised last week continues to reverberate, and unsurprisingly, many incurious journalists continue to give it a pass. An exception is this unnamed AP reporter, who reports the company line that "there's no evidence any downed animal entered the food supply" and then follows right up with this retort from Wayne Pacelle:

(Parenthetically I should also note that this reporter did the two minutes or so of googling to establish that "Federal regulations call for keeping downer cows out of the food supply because they may pose a higher risk of E. coli, salmonella contamination, or mad cow disease since they typically wallow in feces and their immune systems are often weak," while many other lazy and/or gullible journalists pulled the old "according to" dodge, e.g. "HSUS also contends the animals pose a higher risk of picking up bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses like E. coli 015:H7, because they’re not able to stand, and are lying in feces in pens." Yep, just one crazy opinion...)

The USDA believes (and perhaps rightly so) that they can get away with this clear and obvious lie - that there's no evidence downers were made into meat - because few reporters want to get into the nitty-gritty of the way a slaughterhouse works, and because their spokespeople are experts at smoke and mirrors, pretending to answer questions while spinning and weaving like the slipperiest politician. In this press briefing from *cough* Friday, spokesman Kenneth Peterson baldly states right at the top, "To date there is no evidence to substantiate the allegations that downer cattle entered the food supply," failing to mention whether there's some trick photography on the video they were provided or whether the downers that go offscreen are actually entering a swimming-pool area rather than a kill floor.

A Dow Jones reporter tries an appeal to sheer logic: "But what would be the purpose of the inhumane handling of the cattle? In other words, is there any possible other purpose for forcing a fallen cow to their feet other than, say, bypassing the downer prohibition? I mean is there absolutely anything that could be the reason behind this except for that?" But Peterson is ready with an utterly transparent load of nonsense that has nothing to do with what was just asked: "Well, I can't, you know, muse on people's thinking other than to say it's not necessary in a plant that operates effectively, and it's certainly not appropriate. And so perhaps they have some animals that they thought they could get up to move." Get up to move where? To that little-known swimming-pool area, perhaps?

And if all else fails, there's the old standby of "Next question." A Press Enterprise reporter brings up the previous "violations of humane handling" at the plant. First Peterson pretends there was only this one little isolated problem of excessive electric prodding in 2005. Then...
    REPORTER: And that violation, the noncompliance in 2005, was that all they had in their past? Because they are on the Quarterly Enforcement Report from late 2002.

    DR. PETERSEN: Yes. Okay. Now in 2002, as other agency activities we had some activities related to E.coli 0157H7 food safety related issues, some strategies that we pushed out nationwide, telling plants what we expect for them to do as far as control of that pathogen. And we looked closely at virtually every plant associated that would have any relationship to E.coli. That was over 2,500 of them at the time. And they were put on notice for some questions we had regarding their food safety system at that time.
Isn't it clever how he answered yes, they had a documented problem with foodborne pathogens in 2002 without ever actually admitting that? And when the reporter tries to nail that down...
    REPORTER: Are you saying that they did test positive for E.coli in 2002?

    MODERATOR: Excuse me. We need to go on to the next question. We have quite a few in line waiting, so let's go on to the next one.
Perfect. Don't worry, folks, there just happened to be these rogue employees using cattle prods that are not even "allowed on the property" of the plant, in addition to several other cruel activities, and the inspectors just happened to all fail at catching this ("Did they have knowledge of perhaps when my inspectors would be around?" Peterson innocently wonders, having apparently not read the reports that hello, yes, a USDA food safety inspector came at predictable times -- 6:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.), and, get this, while those once-in-a-lifetime aberrations were occuring it just so happened that there was an undercover camera running. That's the story, and the USDA will help the meatpackers stick to it. It's what they do. Because they really think you're stupid enough to buy it.

POSTSCRIPT: Off-topic in terms of the USDA's assessment of your mental fortitude... but I loved this tidbit from one of the above articles: "On Thursday afternoon, protestors stood outside the company at Yorba and Schaefer avenues waving placards that said 'Stop Corporate Greed' and 'Hallmark Tortured Sick Cows.' Passing motorists honked their horns or flashed a thumbs-up." Then: "Two women in a black Honda Civic sat across the street with homemade signs saying 'We support Hallmark Meat Packing' and 'Get the whole story.' They declined to comment." Get the whole story. But not from us!!!

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