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AMI President Tells Congress That Undercover Video Reflects Multiple Failures at Plant, in Government and at Activist Group

Friday, February 29, 2008

(American Meat Institute)

AMI President J. Patrick Boyle told members of Congress yesterday that the images shown in an undercover video taken at a Hallmark/Westland facility in California represent a shocking departure from both industry best practices and typical operations in federally inspected meat plants, but also reflects multiple problems — in the plant’s practices, in inspection oversight at the plant and within the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

Boyle, who testified alongside HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle, made his comments before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies. 

Boyle also told the committee that despite the inhumane treatment of livestock, the record-setting Class II recall of safe meat products sends a mixed message to consumers.  He challenged the lawmakers to consider why USDA is sending a mixed message by saying the meat poses only the remotest health risk, yet launching a record-setting recall.  Boyle said, “I believe USDA would be better advised to conduct an appropriate risk assessment before determining whether it should require a nationwide recall of a product when, according to Secretary Schafer, ‘there is no reason to believe that there’s anything wrong with (the) beef.’”

USDA Agriculture Secretary Edward T. Schafer, who also testified, noted that while the video footage was unacceptable, “we do not believe that this is a food safety issue.” 

Boyle underscored the significance of the size and scope of the recall and the amount of food that was being lost, by stating, “In the face of higher food prices in America, the on-going need for food donations to help feed the hungry, and the rationing of food aid through international relief organizations, I am astonished at the specter of hundreds of millions of pounds of safe food being destroyed.”

Boyle assured the committee that the treatment of the animals in the video stands in sharp contrast to the humane animal handling standards that are practiced in plants every day across the United States, and raised questions about the handling of the incident by the HSUS.  “One can also ask of the Humane Society how it could allow this abuse to continue for almost four months, while it edited its video for release to The Washington Post?,” he noted. 

“Proper and humane handling of livestock is not just a priority for AMI and its members – it is part of our culture,” Boyle said. 

Boyle noted several key initiatives undertaken by the industry at AMI’s recommendation to improve animal welfare, including the development of industry guidelines and an audit guide in partnership with Dr. Temple Grandin, Ph.D. Grandin has committed a life’s work to livestock welfare in the meat industry.

“Our Animal Welfare Committee, and in turn our members, have been a force for change,” Boyle said.  “Their business cards may carry the brands of many meat products you enjoy, and their titles may say plant manager or vice president of operations, but they are as much animal activists as any of the groups with ‘humane’ in their name that try to discredit these businesses.”

Grandin, who submitted written testimony, echoed Boyle’s comments.

“The American Meat Institute Guidelines that I wrote have helped the industry and their customers measure welfare consistently,” Grandin noted.  “They were developed in 1997 and later came to be required as a condition of doing business by major restaurant chains beginning in 1999. Since that time, I have seen dramatic changes.  People in the industry focus much more heavily on animal welfare as part of the daily routine.  Plants invest time in training on site and by sending people to the AMI Animal Care & Handling Conference each year in February.  Some plants use the American Meat Institute videos to train their workers and other companies have developed their own.”

Grandin also expressed frustration with the Humane Society’s failure to immediately alert federal authorities to the practices captured on the video.

“I was very angry that the plant was not identified until January 30 and then, it was because the Washington Post had the video.” Grandin wrote. “When the Post reported the story, I learned that the abuse was observed starting in October.  I live in a practical world outside the beltway.  Inside the beltway, too many people are focused on how they might lose or win in certain situations.  I care about animals, and I see and think in plain terms.  I’m sick that this went on for as long as it did in a federally inspected plant and that people who knew about this behavior waited until January 30 to announce it publicly.”

“This has got to stop.  We need to measure animal welfare objectively throughout the industry without exception, show no tolerance for bad actors, train our inspectors and commit ourselves to welfare in its truest sense and report abuse when we see it,” Grandin concluded.

For more information about AMI’s animal welfare initiatives, go to http://www.animalhandling.org.


For a copy of J. Patrick Boyle’s testimony, to go: http://www.meatinstitute.org/storylinks/2008/BoyleWestlandTestimony.pdf.

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