More than four years after the biggest meat recall in U.S. history, a settlement has been reached in the Humane Society’s lawsuit against Hallmark Meat. The California slaughterhouse not only abused sick cows but then sent their meat into the food system, putting American eaters across the country at risk. A federal court has handed down a $500 million judgment in the case, but as Hallmark is bankrupt, it’ll be a symbolic end to this grisly story.
The case marked the first time federal fraud statutes were used in an animal abuse case, the HSUS said. As a supplier of meats for the national school lunch program, the company had signed federal contracts certifying that it would provide humane treatment of animals sent to the company for slaughter.
The widely circulated video shot by an undercover operative in 2007 showed “downer cows” — those too weak or sick to walk — being dragged by chains, rammed by forklifts and sprayed with high-pressure water by employees who wanted them to stand and walk to slaughter.
The video sparked the largest beef recall in U.S. history in 2008. Nearly 37 million pounds of the 143 million pounds recalled had gone to school lunch programs, and most had been eaten by the time of the recall. The recall cost taxpayers $150 million.
The Department of Justice ended up on the Humane Society’s side in the fight against Hallmark, but the feds are not always so friendly to undercover activist video. In the case of Hallmark, video was crucial to exposing cruel and dangerous practices — but the feds could prosecute the recording of such video as an act of terror under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.
While Hallmark may be out of business, the Department of Agriculture is still investigating allegations of cruelty following the release of investigative, undercover video from another California slaughterhouse, Central Valley Meat Co. In that case, three members of Congress rallied behind the company even after the USDA shut it down, calling the investigation “economic terrorism” and the activists who’d taken the video “eco-extremists.”
That symbolic $500 million settlement seems less delicious now, huh?