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Indy students receiving controversial factory beef

An investigation by the Humane Society of the United States into the practices at a California slaughterhouse has implications for tens of thousands of Indiana schoolchildren.

Releasing a video that shows employees of Westland Meat Packing using abusive tactics to force sick or injured cows, known as “downers,” to slaughter, the Humane Society says it seeks to expose the widespread abuse of the animals as well as the real health threat to humans. The USDA has banned the inclusion of these types of cows into the human food chain since 2003 when it was discovered that “downed” cows accounted for 12 of the 15 cases of mad cow disease known in the United States.

The slaughterhouse in question is the second largest supplier of beef to the National School Lunch Program, distributed to more than 100,000 schools in 36 states, including Indiana.

Nearly a quarter of a million pounds of beef from Westland Meat was distributed to schoolchildren in Indiana in 2007. Nearly half of that meat was served to children in Indianapolis schools. Schools in Gary, South Bend, Lafayette, Fort Wayne and Anderson also receive meat from Westland.

Undercover video shot by the Humane Society shows Westland employees ramming the downed cows with forklifts, kicking, prodding with electrical shocks, jabbing the eyes and using powerful hoses to force the injured and ill cows to move.

Westland has fired the employees seen in the video and temporarily closed the facility while it reviews federal standards for the handling of downed cows. The USDA says it is investigating the claims made by the Humane Society.

Milk labeling bill dies

Over at the Statehouse, Rep. Bill Friend (R-Elkhart) has withdrawn his Milk Labeling Bill (House Bill 1300), a measure that would have made it illegal for dairy farmers to sell their products with “absence labeling.” Specifically, milk could not be labeled with the “rbGH-free” label — “no artificial growth hormones.”

Friend introduced the legislation at the urging of the hormone maker Monsanto and large dairies that use the hormone. Supporters of the bill said the labels are misleading consumers to believe that hormone-free milk is superior to milk from cows given the growth stimulants.

While the usage of rbGH raises dairy productivity and profits an average of 25 percent, consumers are increasingly choosing hormone-free milk, large retailers like Kroger have announced they will only stock milk without rbGH and companies like Starbucks and Ben & Jerry’s have announced they will only use hormone-free milk in their products.

The bill was withdrawn after what one Statehouse worker termed a “major PR campaign”: Consumer and environmental groups inundated legislators with e-mails and phone calls opposing Friend’s measure to make it illegal to label milk “hormone-free.”

Petty politics in the House

Judging by the flurry of press releases sent out by Republican members of the House of Representatives last week, you’d think the state’s Democrats had all lost their minds and were aligning against property tax reform in Indiana.

“It was disappointing to see my House Democrat colleagues refuse to discuss placing permanent protection for Hoosiers into the state Constitution,” said Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) in reference to the death of House Joint Resolution 1, the bill that contained the constitutional amendment capping property taxes.

“We were able to talk about the bill for two minutes before it was dramatically pulled as a House member was discussing it. I’m hopeful that we will be able to discuss placing constitutional protection for Hoosiers and, ultimately, the permanent elimination of property taxes as we move into the second half of the session.”

“I’m concerned that history may be doomed to repeat itself,” Rep. Phil Hinkle (R-Indianapolis) echoed in his press release. “The constitutional cap is the only way to ensure that property taxes never get out of control again like they did last summer.”

HJR 1 would have amended the state Constitution to cap property taxes for homestead properties at 1 percent, rental properties at 2 percent and commercial properties to 3 percent. House Bill 1001, the property tax reform package, previously passed the House in a 93-1 vote, and HJR 1 was set to ensure that property tax cuts remained permanent.

But the move that ended the property tax amendment discussion in the House was about gay marriage, not tax reform.

Rep. Eric Turner (R-Marion) introduced an amendment to the property tax bill with the same wording as Senate Joint Resolution 007. The amendment stated that “Marriage in Indiana consists only of the union of one man and one woman,” as well as, “This Constitution or any other Indiana law may not be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents of marriage be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.”

While the Senate did pass SJR 007 several weeks ago, Democrats in the House have said they will not bring the measure to a vote this year, choosing instead to focus on property tax reform.

Republicans decided to force the issue last Tuesday by tacking on the same-sex marriage ban to the property tax bill. Democrats refused to combine the two pieces of legislation and called it a day. With a month left in the General Assembly, both property taxes and same-sex marriage are likely to find other avenues to the House and Senate floors for a vote.

Conscience Clause is back

While we reported last week that the Conscience Clause bill (Senate Bill 0003) had died in the Senate with a 24-24 vote, General Assembly rules allow for a revote, and the measure passed on its second try with six senators changing their minds and voting in favor of the bill.

SB 003 grants pharmacists the legal right to deny birth control prescriptions and emergency contraception to women.

The bill now moves on to the House of Representatives where abortion is a favorite topic. In addition to the usual bills restricting abortion access, no fewer than six anti-abortion amendments have been filed on three bills (HBs 1020, 1076, 1323) that have nothing to do with abortion.

Some good green news

A Sustainable Design bill (House Bill 1280) has passed the House of Representatives and now moves on to the Senate.

Authored by Rep. Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington), HB 1280 requires all new public buildings and structures, as well as public building repairs and alterations, which have a value of more than $1 million, to meet LEED Silver or an equivalent rating system.

The requirement does not apply to a public works contract entered into by a school corporation, structures listed or eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places or structures designed solely to store commodities or other property.

The measure passed on Jan. 30 with a vote count of 51-45. All Democrats voted for the bill and all but one Republican, Rep. Tim Neese (R-Elkhart), voted against the bill. The bill has now moved on to the Republican-controlled Senate.

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