WASHINGTON – The Humane Society of the United States released video footage Wednesday of sick and injured livestock the group says were mistreated at auction sites and stockyards where cattle are sold for slaughter.
The group released videos shot during April and May showing downed cows abandoned for hours at facilities in Maryland, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Texas. The video was posted on the group's Web site.
"We found downed cows in a state of ill health, with no relief provided to the animals," said Wayne Pacelle, the organization's president and chief executive.
Downed cattle may pose a higher risk of contamination from E. coli, salmonella or mad cow disease because they typically wallow in feces and their immune systems are often weak.
Pacelle said there is no indication the downed cows his group filmed entered the food supply. But he added that the videos point out that auction sites fall between regulatory cracks, raising concern that a downed cow could potentially leave a facility and enter the food supply.
"Every place that we looked, we found downed animals," he said. "No one is watching. No one is taking responsibility for these animals."
The footage shows two downed cows at a site in Hereford, Texas; a downed cow that was left overnight outside an auction facility's barn in Westminster, Md.; two downed cows in at a site Clovis, N.M.; and a downed calf in Greencastle, Pa. In the Maryland case, investigators called the local Humane Society the next morning to euthanize the cow that spent the night behind the barn.
Pacelle said his organization had received a complaint about the Texas facility and had long-standing concerns about the Pennsylvania site. He said the New Mexico facility was chosen because it was close to Hereford and the Maryland auction because it was close to Washington.
"We intend to work immediately with the businesses where the improper handling reportedly occurred," Jim Santomaso, president of industry trade group the Livestock Marketing Association, said in a statement. "LMA shares everyone's interest in promoting the proper care and handling of all livestock, at all stages of their life."
A graphic videotape made inside a California slaughterhouse released by the same group in January led to the nation's largest beef recall.
The United States Department of Agriculture did not immediately respond to requests for comment.