Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. has agreed to a $500 million settlement stemming from animal abuse claims at a slaughterhouse, the Associated Press reported. A video was shot by an undercover operative from the Humane Society of the United States, who recorded cows that were unable to walk or too sick being forced to a slaughterhouse. On the video, workers were seen dragging the cows to the slaughterhouse by chains and using forklifts to force the sick cows, called “downer cows,” to move, the AP reported.
The recorded abuse not only caused outrage but was illegal. Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. supplied meat for school lunches and the company were required to follow federal regulation for the humane treatment of cows, noted the AP. The company was also supposed to report any cows that were sick to Department of Agriculture veterinarians, the New York Times reported.
The video clearly showed Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. failed to follow federal regulations and had to recall over 143 million pounds of ground beef, noted the New York Times. “Downer cows” are not fit for consumption because they could carry diseases such as Mad Cow Disease. The company was forced to file bankruptcy following the meat recall.
The Humane Society of the United States filed a lawsuit against the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co., the AP said. The settlement is also the first ever of its kind for an animal abuse claim. According to Jonathan R. Lovvorn, chief counsel for animal protection litigation for the Humane Society of the United States, "This is a first-of-its-kind lawsuit regarding farm animals, the first time federal fraud statutes have been applied."
Since Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. has filed bankruptcy, the $500 million settlement will go unpaid. Instead, two of the nine defendants -- Donald Hallmark Sr. and Donald Hallmark Jr. -- will have to pay $316,802 within five years and will work with the Humane Society and the United States Department of Justice as they prosecute the seven other defendants.
Lovvorn told the AP that the settlement is a victory because "it informs other federal government contractors that when your contract says you provide humane handling, if you don't do that you're likely to end up bankrupt as well."