illions of Americans recently watched news reports in dismay as video footage of grossly inhumane treatment of “downer” cows at southern California’s Westland/Hallmark Meat Company flashed across their television screens. Cows too sick or injured to stand were being shoved by forklifts or dragged with chains to the slaughterhouse chutes, where they were to be killed, then processed and sold for food. Other footage of the undercover video taken by the U.S. Humane Society included factory workers using electric prods and high-powered water hoses to force cows to stand, as well as kicking and heaving them to their feet.
“The facts of this case are horrendous,”
San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos said. “It makes your stomach turn to see what they did to these cows.”1
U.S. Agriculture secretary Ed Schafer appeared similarly appalled: “I am dismayed at the inhumane handling of cattle that has resulted in the violation of food safety regulations,” he said.2
The Department of Agriculture recalled 143 million
pounds of beef from Westland because of its violation of health regulations the USDA established after the discovery of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), in the United States in 2003. Downer cows, or those too ill to stand, were banned from the food supply because of their higher risk of carrying BSE, E. coli, salmonella, and other diseases. So far, no resulting illnesses from this meat supply have been reported. Criminal and felony charges have been filed against the workers.
Tragically, this incident of inhumane treatment and total disregard for health standards is not an isolated one. Numerous practices of abuse have been frequently cited, and the many violations I read about make the world seem a much darker place. The stories also forcefully bring to mind the words of Ellen White in Counsels on Diet and Foods: “The fact that meat is largely diseased, should lead us to make strenuous efforts to discontinue its use entirely” (p. 410). “Disease in cattle is making meat eating a dangerous matter” (p. 411).
Those words are certainly relevant today. And Ellen White didn’t overlook cruelty to God’s nonhuman creatures: “Animals see and hear and love and fear and suffer,” she wrote in The Ministry of Healing, pages 315, 316. “They manifest sympathy and tenderness toward their companions in suffering. Many animals show an affection for those who have charge of them, far superior to the affection shown by some of the human race. . . .
“What man with a human heart, who has ever cared for domestic animals, could look into their eyes, so full of confidence and affection, and willingly give them over to the butcher’s knife? How could he devour their flesh as a sweet morsel?”
Sharing the message of God’s love and His soon return, and caring for the needs of suffering women, men, and children throughout the world comprise the central focus of the mission of God’s church. Having compassion for animals, however, as well as being good stewards of the environment in which we live and conserving the natural resources vital for a high quality of life and the well-being of ourselves and our children should not fall below our radar screens. As children of our heavenly Father, who cares about even the sparrows, it is our duty not to neglect these responsibilities and to speak for those, even of the animal kingdom, who are not able to speak for themselves.
If you live in the United States, write to your representative in Congress and express your desire that they be advocates for humane treatment of factory farm animals. Contact your local humane society and ask what you can do to help. Or simply be careful shoppers and check foods for the “Certified Humane Raised & Handled” label, created in May 2003 through Virginia-based Humane Farm Animal Care.
“It’s the best current wide-scale program to combat abuse on modern factory farms,” Bruce Friedrich, vice president of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) International Grassroots Campaign, says. “The farms certified have to get rid of a lot of the really heinous things found on a farm. . . . The goals of this label are admirable and the outcome is significant.”3
So be aware, be alert, be proactive. What you do makes a difference.
Sandra Blackmer is an assistant editor of the Adventist Review.