FRESNO, Calif. -- A California slaughterhouse where videotaped mistreatment of cows prompted the largest meat recall in U.S. history has reached a symbolic $500 million settlement with an animal welfare group and the federal government.
The record penalty for the animal abuse case is not expected to be paid because Riverside County-based Hallmark Meat Co. is bankrupt.
The tentative settlement of the civil lawsuit was announced Friday by the Humane Society of the United States, which filed the
case and later was joined by the U.S. Department of Justice.
"It's a deterrence judgment," Humane Society attorney Jonathan R. Lovvorn said. "It informs other federal government contractors that when your contract says you provide humane handling, if you don't do that you're likely to end up bankrupt as well."
The case marked the first time federal fraud statutes were used in an animal abuse case, the Humane Society said. As a supplier of meats for the national school lunch program, the company had signed federal contracts certifying that it would provide humane treatment of animals sent to the company for slaughter.
The widely circulated video shot by an undercover operative in 2007 showed "downer cows" -- those too weak or sick to walk -- being dragged by chains, rammed by forklifts and sprayed with high-pressure water by employees who wanted them to stand and walk to slaughter.
The video sparked the largest beef recall in U.S. history in 2008. Nearly 37 million pounds of the 143 million pounds recalled had gone to school lunch programs, and most had been eaten by the time of the recall. The recall cost taxpayers $150 million.
The settlement announced Friday is with the two main defendants in the case.
Under the terms, father and son Donald Hallmark Sr. and Donald Hallmark Jr., general partners of Hallmark Meat Co., have five years to pay a separate settlement of $316,802, or the bulk of their remaining personal assets.