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Friday, February 15, 2008

Criminal Charges over Crippled Cows

The San Bernardino County District Attorney filed criminal charges Friday against two slaughter plant workers who abused cows too sick or injured to stand up, as revealed in recent weeks by a shocking undercover investigation by The Humane Society of the United States. The charges included felony counts of cruelty to animals and misdemeanor counts of violating California’s law on downed animals, and it’s the first time to my knowledge that such charges have been filed against employees of a slaughterhouse.

My hat is off to District Attorney Michael A. Ramos, Deputy District Attorney Deborah Ploghaus, the Inland Valley Humane Society, and Chino Police Department, who worked together to investigate this case and take action. It’s meaningless to have animal protection laws on the books unless they are appropriately enforced. Passing humane laws is the first step, but having law enforcement officials who uphold the standards set by those laws is an important component of good public policy.

281x190_calif_downer24"I need the public to understand that my office takes all cases involving animal cruelty very seriously," said District Attorney Ramos. "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."

Given the national impact of this case and the economic costs borne by taxpayers as more than 150 school districts and the U.S. Department of Agriculture scrambled to keep tainted beef out of the food supply, I hope the investigation won’t stop here. Law enforcement authorities should aggressively pursue any possible leads that point to culpability by the company itself and its senior executives.

Members of Congress, too, continue to weigh in and call for further investigation. Thursday, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Representatives George Miller (D-Calif.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), and Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) asked the General Accounting Office to examine the safety of food provided through the National School Lunch Program. This comes in addition to the USDA’s own investigation and its shuttering of the slaughter plant, as lawmakers expressed the need for a more independent assessment of the government’s ability to protect students from contaminated food.

“I’m not sure it can be dealt with with just the department investigating itself,” Rep. Miller, chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, told the Los Angeles Times. “Ever since mad cow we’ve asked for better tracking systems for beef so we can inform consumers in a real-time fashion… but parents are constantly in situations with lack of information.”

Thanks to legislative leaders and law enforcement officials for following through on the food safety and animal welfare problems uncovered by this investigation, and working to see both that justice is served and that USDA takes a fresh look at its policies and procedures related to slaughterhouses.

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