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Landmark Settlement Reached in Westland-Hallmark Meat Case

The now-defunct Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. sparked the largest-ever meat recall after egregious, undercover abuse footage was made public in 2008 and now the company has sparked the largest-ever judgement for an animal abuse case.

On Friday, the Humane Society of the United States announced it had reached a partial settlement with two of the nine defendants in its False Claims Act lawsuit and that the federal government was entering a final judgement of $497 million against the company, which used to be one of the biggest suppliers of ground beef to the National School Lunch Program.

The animal advocacy group said Donald Hallmark Sr. and Donald Hallmark Jr.agreed to pay a total of $316,802 to the Department of Justice and HSUS will receive a “small portion of the settlement proceeds for its role in successfully prosecuting the case.”

While the judgement is record-setting for an animal abuse case, the company will not actually pay the full fine to the government.

According to HSUS, “The full judgment – which is the largest court judgment ever entered for animal abuse – cannot be collected in light of Hallmark’s insolvency, and is intended to deter future animal cruelty in the nation’s slaughterhouses.”

Westland/Hallmark went out of business after the abuse footage–which showed “downer” cows (animals unable to walk) being dragged, violently prodded, and forklifted–caused national outrage. As a supplier to the National School Lunch Program, the company had agreed to follow strict animal welfare standards in its contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  The litigation stems from the company failing to live up to that contract.

Downer cows are not legally allowed to enter the food supply, in part because they are at increased risk for BSE, otherwise known as mad cow disease. Non-ambulatory animals are also more likely to be contaminated with fecal matter and disease-causing bacteria. The undercover abuse footage prompted a 143 million pound ground beef recall, 37 million of which had been supplied to the NSLP. The vast majority of the meat had already been consumed by the time it was recalled.

“The meat industry should take notice that if they defraud federal agencies and the American taxpayers by abusing animals, there will be serious consequences for their inhumane and reckless actions,” said Jonathan R. Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation for HSUS. “We commend the U.S. Department of Justice for joining The Humane Society of the United States in seeking to hold federal meat suppliers accountable.”

Image courtesy of the Humane Society of the United States.

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