It's always disturbing to see animals being abused. As people whose very livelihood depends on animal welfare and stewardship in animal care, the mere thought generates anger and disgust. So, too, does the thought that people would lie about something like that to advance their extremist agenda.

The animal rights group Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) this week released video footage that shows workers in a California packing plant abusing downer cows. The video, taken the fall of 2007, shows workers using electric prods on cows that are unable to stand on their own; forklifts to roll downer cows on the ground to get them to stand for inspection; and high intensity water sprayed in their nostrils.

Those actions are not just violations of federal regulations, but of common decency and a moral obligation we have to handle animals with respect and in a humane manner. The footage was taken by a hidden camera worn by a HSUS activist who worked at Hallmark Meat Packing in Chino, CA. The plant sells meat for processing to Westland Meat Co. in Chino, according to the Washington Post.

Steve Mendell, Westland president and operations manager at Hallmark, expressed disbelief to the Washington Post that employees used electric prods to get sick or injured animals on their feet for federal inspectors. "That's impossible," he said, adding that "electrical prods are not allowed on the property."

Asked if his employees use forklifts to get downed animals off the ground, he said, "I can't imagine that." Asked if water was sprayed up animals' noses to get them to stand, he said, "That's absolutely not true." Mendell told the Washington Post that the company has a "massive humane treatment program here that we follow to the Nth degree, so this doesn't even sound possible. I don't stand out there all day, but to me it would be next to impossible."

Nevertheless, newly anointed Ag Secretary Ed Schafer called for an investigation of the plant by USDA's Office of the Inspector General, Food Safety and Inspection Service and Ag Marketing Service. In addition, he suspended Westland Meat Company as a supplier to federal food programs and placed a hold on all meat from the plant. Those measures will remain in effect until the USDA investigation is complete.

Smell test?

However, this whole sordid affair doesn't pass my smell test. It was conducted by HSUS, which has been clear in its intent to put the meat industry out of existence and change the U.S. to a vegan society. Given that agenda, one has to suspect their actions.

Apparently, Schafer smelled a similar odor. "It is unfortunate that the Humane Society of the United States did not present this information to us when these alleged violations occurred in the fall of 2007," Schafer said. "Had we known at the time the alleged violations occurred, we would have initiated our investigation sooner, and taken appropriate actions at that time."

While hidden cameras have gone out of vogue recently, HSUS and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) still use the tactic from time to time. I recall an incident in the early 90s where a now-defunct television show called "Prime Time Live" snuck a hidden camera into an Excel (now Cargill Meat Solutions) beef plant in Friona, TX and videotaped alleged carcass mishandling. As best I can recall, it turned out the whole deal was staged by the meat inspector's union in an attempt to derail a proposed streamlined meat inspection system.

It might be possible that the HSUS video is accurate. But I doubt it. We will wait to see what USDA finds in its investigation and report that to you. In the meantime, however, it's wise for all of us to view HSUS' tactics with a skepticism they well deserve.