The owner of a California livestock auction has finally been charged with animal cruelty following an undercover investigation conducted by Mercy for Animals (MFA) that exposed the horrific treatment of animals two years ago.
In 2012, an investigator documented severe abuse and neglect at Ontario Livestock Sales, the largest livestock auction in southern California. Workers were caught kicking, beating, choking, dragging, jumping on and throwing animals, many of who were then left to suffer and die from illness or injuries without food, water or veterinary care.
The callous level of cruelty seen in the footage is both heartbreaking and shocking, but it also exposed another atrocity: selling downed animals who are too injured, sick or weak to stand and walk on their own.
Doing so is illegal in California, but the reason isn’t because we’re kind and don’t want these animals to needlessly suffer; it’s because they pose a risk to public health if they enter the food supply. California enacted the law to protect all downed animals in 2009 after an investigation from the Humane Society of the United States exposed cruelty to cows in what later resulted in the largest meat recall in U.S. history.
In 2012 the law was overturned by the Supreme Court after it was challenged by the National Meat Association, which argued that states aren’t allowed to go above and beyond regulations that are set out in the Federal Meat Inspection Act.
The facility’s owner in this case, Horacio Santorsola, tried to weasel out of the charges by claiming that the state’s downer law didn’t apply to his facility, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling, but unfortunately for him the San Bernardino Superior Court later ruled that the state could go after him because his business wasn’t subject to federal inspections.
This week, in what MFA is calling a landmark case, Santorsola pleaded guilty to violating California’s animal cruelty laws for selling downer animals and was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to pay a fine of $1000 to the Inland Valley Humane Society. Seven employees were also charged, but their cases are pending until later this August.
MFA is thanking both law enforcement and the court for taking this case seriously and for ensuring non-ambulatory animals have greater protection under the law:
Today’s conviction follows a landmark decision by the Appellate Division of the San Bernardino Superior Court affirming the validity of California’s one-of-a-kind “downer” law and making clear that non-ambulatory animals deserve heightened protections against neglect, abuse, and malicious cruelty. Mercy For Animals praises the San Bernardino District Attorney’s office for pursuing justice in this important case.
Matt Rice, director of investigations at Mercy For Animals, told the LA Times the organization thinks the charges should serve as a warning to auctions that animal abuse will not be tolerated.
Unfortunately, until we see farm animals as more than a source of food they will continue to suffer abuses like this at farms, auctions and slaughterhouses. MFA is reminding us all that consumers are the driving force here and that the easiest way to help put an end to this suffering is to leave them off our plates.
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