Although this issue of Canadian Poultry doesn’t touch upon welfare
concerns, a recent incident has demonstrated the importance of this
issue to livestock industries, and I felt it was important to discuss.
Although this issue of Canadian Poultry doesn’t touch upon welfare concerns, a recent incident has demonstrated the importance of this issue to livestock industries, and I felt it was important to discuss.
Recently, a large meat packer in the U.S., the California-based Westland/ Hallmark slaughter plant, was the subject of the largest meat recall in U.S. history. This recall – a staggering 143 million pounds of meat – was not initiated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), but rather the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
A follower of the HSUS, a member of an “investigative team,” had a camera hidden in the button of his uniform and filmed downer cows being abused at the slaughter plant. The graphic video clearly showed abuse, but it also clearly demonstrated that downer cows were entering the food supply, which is not allowed (unless the animals are inspected) by the USDA over fears that downer cows have an increased risk of being ill or infected with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE).
It is fears over the food supply that the HSUS used, in this case, to its advantage. The group’s president, Wayne Pacelle, used the findings on the tape to question the safety of the U.S. food supply before the Senate appropriations subcommittee on agriculture.
After releasing the tape, the HSUS’s argument dealt more with the USDA’s perceived lack of inspection regulations than the abuse itself.
What this demonstrates is that the game is changing. Welfare advocates are no longer satisfied with undercover-type operations or graphic images – they know that these will only get them a certain amount of publicity. They realize they’ll get more punch with the media and consumers if they use welfare concerns to question food safety.
What is more powerful than undermining the confidence of consumers with respect to the safety of their food?
Mr. Pacelle was successful in putting the USDA and Westland/Hallmark on the defensive over its lack of regulation, despite his twisting of the truth. Downer cows pose little risk for BSE when compared to the feed they eat, and as long as they are inspected by a veterinarian at the plant, downer cows can indeed safely enter the food supply.
I question, however, whether or not such a campaign would be successful for the poultry industry – that is, only if we continue to play our cards right. The industry in the U.K, the U.S. and in Canada has been under attack for the use of cages for egg-laying hens, and to a lesser extent, slaughter processes and transport for broilers.
Food safety is not a valid point for the cage debate, as research has shown that eggs are cleaner from birds housed in cages and the health of the birds themselves is greater and more easily managed than those in alternative systems.
However, the egg industry must keep this foremost in consumers’ minds. There are always going to be those that find cages inhumane, but it’s important that groups like the HSUS don’t find a reason to twist the truth to their advantage. Their game has changed, and we need to change ours.
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