Press Releases

Senators Feinstein, Stevens, Akaka and Boxer Introduce Bill to Shut Down Facilities That Repeatedly Slaughter Downed Animals

- Bill would grant USDA greater authority to penalize facilities that process nonambulatory livestock, including fines and possible shutdowns -

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today introduced legislation that would shut down slaughter facilities that repeatedly process downed animals and offer stiff fines and temporary one-year shutdowns for first and second time violators.

“Animals that are sick and too weak to stand or walk on their own should not be slaughtered and used for food,” Senator Feinstein said. “Millions of pounds of potentially tainted, recalled meat made its way into school cafeterias across this country. Companies responsible for this kind of activity shouldn’t just receive a slap on the wrist. The safety of our food supply cannot be taken lightly.

“So for first time offenders, this legislation would impose stiff fines. For second time offenders, it would effectively shut down operations for a year. And for third time offenders, it would shut them down permanently. This should send the message, loud and clear, that allowing downed animals in the food supply won’t be tolerated,” Senator Feinstein added.

The bill, which is co-sponsored by Senators Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) will give the USDA additional authority to apply a tough penalty system on facilities that violate the law when it comes to handling nonambulatory animals, including stiff fines for first time offenders and temporary or permanent facility shutdowns for repeat violators. Nonambulatory is defined as those animals that cannot stand or walk without assistance.

"Slaughtering ill livestock and sending this meat to market is simply not acceptable," said Senator Stevens. "We need stiffer penalties for meat packing companies that are engaging this practice. By passing this legislation Congress would help ensure less recalls, safer food, and the protection of American consumers. I am pleased to join Senator Feinstein in her effort to address this issue."

“This bill will hold repeat offenders accountable for their actions,” Senator Akaka said.  “If you are caught jeopardizing the safety of our children and mishandling livestock, you should know that there are consequences.  Our children deserve to eat untainted meat, and the livestock that feed us deserve to be slaughtered in a humane manner.  We must stop sick animals from entering our food supply, and we must punish those who put profit before the safety of our families.”  Akaka noted that Feinstein’s bill complements the provisions in S. 394, the Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act introduced by Akaka last year, and he hopes that both bills will pass soon. 

"America's beef is the safest in the world, and we want to keep it that way. The abuses and violations that took place at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Company are very serious and should serve as a bright, red warning sign that USDA needs to tighten its inspection policies,” Senator Boxer said. “We need to do everything possible to ensure that dangerous meat from downer cattle is not making its way into the food supply, and that consumers are given appropriate information when there is a potential health threat."

On February 17, 2008 the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company in Chino, California recalled more than 143 million pounds of beef products that were processed at their plant. This came after the Humane Society of the United States released a video showing workers abusing nonambulatory cows to get them on their feet for slaughter.

"Our hidden-camera investigation must spur more than just awareness," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States.  "We need a bright-line ban on all downers in the food supply and stronger civil penalties for companies that ignore legally required humane-handling responsibilities.  We are grateful to Senator Feinstein for introducing this important legislation."

Under this legislation, slaughterhouses would face fines and other penalties if caught trying to slaughter downed livestock. These include:

  • A fine for a first violation, based upon a percentage of the facility’s gross income. The percentage would be determined by the USDA Secretary.
  • USDA inspection services would be suspended for one year following a second violation, effectively shutting down the facility during that time.
  • A third violation would require the USDA to withdraw the facility’s Grant of Inspection – resulting in the permanent shutdown of the facility.

The bill also would require the USDA to release the names of establishments that have received recalled products. This will help distributors, retailers and consumers to better identify and more quickly get recalled products off their shelves and out of their homes.

Senator Feinstein also sent a letter to USDA Secretary Ed Schafer on Thursday, requesting a detailed explanation about why the agency has failed to increase the punishment of facilities that slaughter downed livestock despite given the authority to do so under the 2002 Farm Bill.

In the 2002 Farm Bill, Congress gave the USDA the authority to establish regulations “to provide for the humane treatment, handling, and disposition of non-ambulatory livestock by stockyards, market agencies, and dealers.” Violators of these regulations can be subject to punishments that include both criminal and civil penalties – including jail time of up to 10 years and fines of $500,000 for three time offenders.

However, the USDA’s currently only suspends inspection of the facility following a violation until the facility either corrects the violation or submits a corrective action plan. Once the plan is approved by the UISDA, the agency allows the facility to reopen -- which can be within hours.

“The USDA is failing to deter violations of regulations prohibiting unhealthy non-ambulatory livestock from entering the food supply. USDA has authority to increase the punishment of those who place at-risk meat in the food supply,” Senator Feinstein wrote. “I encourage USDA to make its punishment regime more robust.”

Following is the text of Senator Feinstein’s letter to Secretary Schafer:

March 13, 2008

The Honorable Ed Schafer
Secretary of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I am writing to express my concern that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is failing to deter violations of regulations prohibiting unhealthy non-ambulatory livestock from entering the food supply.  USDA has authority to increase the punishment of those who place at-risk meat in the food supply.  I encourage USDA to make its punishment regime more robust.

In the 2002 Farm Bill, Congress gave USDA authority to promulgate regulations “to provide for the humane treatment, handling, and disposition of non-ambulatory livestock by stockyards, market agencies, and dealers,” which USDA has issued.  I understand that USDA uses only one enforcement tool to enforce these rules.  Upon discovering a violation, it is USDA’s practice to suspend inspection in a facility until the facility submits a corrective action plan or corrects the violation to the satisfaction of the inspectors.  Once the plan is approved by USDA – sometimes within hours of the violation occurring in the case of inhumane treatment violations – USDA allows the facility to reopen.

The 2002 Farm Bill states that violators of these regulations “shall be subject” to a punishment regime which includes both criminal and civil penalties – including jail time of up to ten years and fines reaching $500,000 for three time offenders.  That stands in stark contrast to the punishment regime USDA currently utilizes to enforce these regulations.

Today, I have introduced bipartisan legislation to make the current punishment regime far more robust.  I encourage you to examine your current punishment regime, and I request that you provide a detailed explanation of why USDA does not use all the punishment powers Congress has asked it to utilize.

I look forward to working with you to make it clear to potential violators of food safety protection regulations that their misdeeds will be severely punished.


     Dianne Feinstein
     United States Senator