To protect his identity, the undercover investigator behind the biggest beef recall in U.S. history refuses to disclose his name, his marital status, his hometown, even his age.
One of the few personal things he'll reveal is his culinary preference: He's a vegan.
But in a phone interview, the investigator for the Humane Society of the United States sketched a bleak account of his six weeks at a Chino, Calif., slaughterhouse that supplied meat to school-lunch programs and supermarkets throughout the U.S.
By day, the investigator said, he helped drive cattle from trucks and pens into a chute that led to the killing floor. But at the same time, he employed a pinhole camera he wore under his shirt (and controlled with a switch in his pocket) to film the brutal treatment of animals too weak or sick to walk to slaughter. Under federal regulations, only animals able to walk on their own can be used for meat.
At night, the agent said, he returned, exhausted and manure-flecked, to a motel to chronicle his findings in a notebook and lock his videotapes in a closet safe.
"It was so blatant, so commonplace," he said. "It was so in your face ... they were pushing animals we felt never should have qualified for human consumption."
The undercover video led to the filing of criminal charges against two workers at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing plant and the recall of 143 million pounds of beef. The plant is now shuttered.
The investigator said he gave his real name and Social Security number when he was hired at the plant and had no trouble getting the job. At $8 an hour for 12-hour days of grueling labor, turnover was so high, he said, that managers seemed happy to have anyone who wouldn't quit the next day. He worked from sunup till sundown, driving cattle down a long, narrow chute to the slaughterhouse. At the end of the day, he would spend about an hour shoveling manure and cleaning up.
During short lunch breaks in his car, he ate soy burgers and fake deli meat in an attempt to appear like other employees.