WASHINGTON – Former Sen. Bob Dole, who won passage of a landmark expansion of humane slaughter legislation three decades ago, says action is needed to prevent violations like those documented in a recent undercover video at a slaughterhouse.
"I've seen the video — it shouldn't happen, these poor cattle," Dole told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday. "It's got to be addressed. If it's a shortage of money or inspectors, or they're not doing their jobs. I don't know how many inspectors it would take. The bottom line is, whatever it takes ought to be done."
The video, shot by the Humane Society of the United States, showed workers at Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif., shoving and kicking sick, crippled cattle, forcing them to stand using electric prods, forklifts and water hoses. In response, the Agriculture Department shut down the plant and has since ordered the recall of 143 million pounds of the company's beef — the largest in U.S. history — because the company didn't prevent "downer" cattle from entering the food supply. Downers, those too sick or injured to walk, pose a greater risk of illnesses such as mad cow disease.
The Senate Appropriations agriculture subcommittee was holding a hearing Thursday on the recall. The subcommittee chairman, Wisconsin Democrat Herb Kohl, said he will press Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer for an audit of all U.S. plants.
Dole, a Kansas Republican who was the party's presidential nominee in 1996, sponsored an update to the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act in 1978 that made compliance with the law's standards mandatory. Before that, the law, which passed Congress in 1958, required slaughterhouses to meet the standards as a condition of selling meat to the federal government.
Dole recalled working closely with the original law's sponsor, Sen. Hubert Humphrey, D-Minn., who went on to become vice president. Humphrey initially had pushed to make the standards mandatory but settled for compromise legislation. Ironically, he died the year that Dole won passage of the updated law.
"We were great friends," Dole said. "We both sat on the ag committee, and were both from farm states, and we'd both seen things in our lifetime with cruelty to animals. I remember in my little hometown of Russell seeing some things — particularly how dogs were tied up in the hot sun and left there all day long. Those little impressions when you're a kid sort of stick with you."
He said he remembered how livestock were handled as well.
"And maybe it was just regular treatment of animals that I didn't understand, but it just seemed to me that some things were overdone," he said. "The way they'd prod 'em around and kick 'em around. Maybe that's just cowboy stuff, I don't know. It made me think a little bit about what two-footed people ought to be thinking about four-footed animals."
Dole said many farm groups opposed the legislation in 1978.
"I don't know how I got it passed, come to think of it," he said. "It must have been the middle of the night."