|William Brandt raises 100,000 cattle on his ranch in Brawley, just north of the Mexican border. In the past four years he's started raising about 30 percent of the herd 'naturally' --no antibiotics in their last 300 days and never any hormones. (photo by Amanda Lucidon)
Alternatives gain attention amid Chino abuse case
Chino cattle abuse puts spotlight on operations certified humane or organic
|f we say a prayer, if we observe a moment of silence before we take the life of another being for the sake of profit, can this be said to be a form of respect?
THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE by Janet Zimmerman and Sean Nealon Mar 2008 3/1/2008
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Every Tuesday in the slaughterhouse at the center of the sprawling Prather Ranch in Northern California, butchers on the kill floor stand silent for a moment before making meat of two dozen steers that eventually will be served on dinner tables across the West.
The inspiration for the quiet pause is a quotation from humane animal treatment expert Temple Grandin. It is framed and hanging on a wall of the "knock box," where cows are stunned before their throats are slit.
Grandin's quote: "I believe that the place where an animal dies is a sacred one." Bringing ritual into slaughter plants might prevent people from becoming numb or callous. "The ritual could be something very simple, such as a moment of silence. ... No words. Just one pure moment of silence."
The 15,000-acre ranch in the shadow of Mount Shasta is not only an organic operation, but is also one of a growing number of beef producers certified by Humane Farm Animal Care , which outlines conditions for the raising, processing and transportation of animals used for food.
Inquiries from the public about Prather Ranch meat pick up after incidents like the recent record-setting beef recall out of Chino-based Westland/Hallmark Meat Co., where undercover video revealed abuse of cattle with forklifts and electric prods, ranch owner Mary Rickert said.
Consumers' concerns about food safety, humane treatment of animals and the adequacy of federal inspections -- all issues raised in the Hallmark case -- are helping push beef operations like Prather Ranch from boutique to mainstream.
"It's all part of a whole. People who are concerned about healthy food generally care about all the components that go into making that food healthy," said Adele Douglass, founder of Humane Farm Animal Care in Virginia. "You don't get healthy food from sick animals."
When Douglass' group started in 2002, membership included 50 farms with 143,000 animals. By the end of last year, she had almost 700 farms representing 20 million animals. Certification earns producers a special packaging logo signifying humane treatment.
A Matter of Taste
Prather Ranch's on-site slaughterhouse was specially designed to minimize stress on cattle, which is said to make the meat tough.
For example, a 30-foot half-circle alleyway leading to the knock box has solid sides, so nothing distracts or startles the cows, Rickert said.
Downer cows -- those too sick or injured to stand or walk on their own -- are rare, and electric prods are never used. Mats are laid on the ground so the cattle don't slip on concrete, and they are moved quietly up the chute and into the box for the moment of silence.
At the family-run Brandt ranch in Brawley, south of the Salton Sea in Imperial Valley, rancher William Brandt made his 70 employees watch the undercover Humane Society video of workers abusing cows at Hallmark.
The workers had to sign a statement reiterating that the Brandt company has a no-animal-abuse policy and that workers abusing animals will be terminated and reported to authorities.
Brandt, who raises 100,000 black-and-white Holsteins on land just north of the Mexican border, is thinking about installing video cameras in the cattle-handling areas.
"Something like that," Brandt said of the abuse, "you think you're on top of everything. But you have to take everything a step further."
It costs about $30 to $40 more to raise a natural cow, but the meat is more tender and has better flavor, he said.
It also sells for about 30 percent more, said Eric Brandt, one of William Brandt's four children involved with the company.