Two Milestones in the Fight for Animals

By on July 13, 2007 with 0 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

We just don’t give up at The HSUS. Some of the fights we launch are tough, and the goals we set may seem unachievable at the outset. But we just keep coming. We wear down our opponents. We engage the public and the media. We set our eye on the prize. And we keep pushing until we reach a breakthrough and secure a victory for animals.

Yesterday, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco signed H.B. 108, which bans cockfighting in her state next summer. (Last week, she signed an HSUS-backed bill to ban gambling at cockfights starting this summer, and that law alone should devastate the industry. The combined effect of the two bills should disassemble this bloodsport in short order). We’d been fighting this issue for years and years, and it was this year that we broke through.

In 1997, with cockfighting outlawed in 45 states, we vowed to ban cockfighitng in its final five bastions. We pursued the goal with a blend of political calculation and relentless action. We banned cockfighting in Missouri and Arizona with a pair of ballot initaitives in 1998. We banned cockfighting in Oklahoma in 2002 by ballot initiative—after a fierce struggle there. And in 2007, we banned it in state legislatures in New Mexico and now in Louisiana—where only 20 years ago lawmakers in those states had mocked the authors of the bills to outlaw the activity and routed their reform efforts. I might add that we also upgraded the federal law against animal fighting in 2002, and then again this year, making it now a felony to move fighting animals or cockfighting implements in interstate or foreign commerce.

It’s a moment to savor—50 state bans and a federal ban, too. These barbaric fights will no longer be legal in any state, and this ugly industry should shrivel in the months and years ahead.

Yesterday was also a milestone for another long-standing HSUS campaign. The campaign to ban the abuse of downer cows—animals who go down at slaughterhouses, who cannot get up because of their severe injuries or other maladies, and who are unceremoniously and inhumanely dragged or pushed into the slaughterhouses for processing for human consumption.


We started actively fighting, with Farm Sanctuary at our side, to ban the use of downer cows more than a decade ago. In 2003, after a downer cow with Mad Cow Disease was processed for human consumption in Washington state, the U.S. Department of Agriculture adopted an "interim final rule" to ban the processing of downers. For the last three and a half years, the USDA did not make the rule final, and the industry in that period lobbied the USDA and the Congress to weaken the rule by allowing the processing of downer animals with a broken leg or some other physical injury (as compared to animals with a clear neurological problem that they conceded should not be slaughtered for food).

We argued that there’s no way for veterinarians to make these spot medical assessments at the slaughter plants and parse the physical injuries from the neurological disorders. We said that a broken leg or some other physical injury may result from a neurological condition that causes them to stumble and fall—that the injuries may in fact be derivative of a Mad Cow condition. We’ve also said that it’s just impossible to humanely move a downer animal, and the no-downer policy is well justified on humane grounds alone. Dragging these hapless animals into slaughterhouses violates any reasonable standard of humane handling.

Well, finally, yesterday the USDA went 95 percent of the way in our direction. It issued a final rule banning the processing of downer cows. It will allow processing of animals that go down after they pass inspection, and that is an unfortunate loophole but it should apply to only a small number of animals. With a relatively strong downer ban, tens of thousands of animals will be spared languishing at slaughter plants, and producers will have to do better in the way of humane handling so that the animals do not go down in the first place.

These are both big victories for animals. With resources, we can stay in the fight.  With resolve, we can fight to win.

The Humane Society of the United States Applauds USDA for Partial Ban on Slaughter of Downed Farm Animals and Urges Congress to Pass Blanket "No Downer" Law

WASHINGTON (July 12, 2007)—The Humane Society of the United States had a generally favorable reaction today to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s announcement of a permanent ban on slaughtering most cattle unable to stand and walk under their own power as a result of illness, injury, or a combination of illness and injury. The HSUS does object, however, to a relatively narrow loophole in the regulation that allows some downer cattle to continue to be slaughtered for human consumption.

The USDA announced an interim policy against slaughtering all downed cattle in 2004 after a reportedly downed cow in Washington State was found to have mad cow disease. The policy announced today makes official a loophole that was uncovered last year by the agency’s own Inspector General (IG)—cows who become nonambulatory after their initial inspection at a slaughterplant are still being processed for human food. The IG’s January 2006 audit found that 29 downer cows had been slaughtered for food, out of a sample of just 12 facilities checked during a nine-month period. The IG noted the lack of documentation on the animals’ fitness for consumption and observed that the animals had been transported by forklift.

"A permanent ban on slaughtering downed cattle is very sound public policy," said Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO. "The USDA should have a complete ban on slaughtering downers as a way to improve the treatment of farm animals and safeguard the nation’s food supply."

"There’s really no reason a cow should suddenly fall over while moving through the chutes unless there’s illness or improper handling," Pacelle added. "Allowing these animals to be processed is cruel and does not establish the food safety standards USDA should strive to meet. The loophole that USDA acknowledged and made official today should be closed."

The HSUS has actively pushed Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for more than a decade to ban slaughtering downed animals because of the pain and suffering the animals endure. The effort to ban the slaughter of downed animals took on new urgency when the link between downed cattle and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) became clear. Of the 14 known cases of BSE-positive animals discovered in North America, at least 12 involved downed animals.

Downed animals are routinely left for days without food, water or veterinary care. They have been dragged with chains, prodded with electric shocks and pushed with bulldozers in an effort to forcibly move them to slaughter.

A complete "no downer" policy encourages better treatment of animals on the farm and during transportation to slaughter to avoid preventable injuries.

Representatives Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) and Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) introduced H.R. 661, the Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act, in the House, and Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) introduced identical legislation in the Senate, S. 394. That legislation would establish, as a matter of law, a comprehensive ban on slaughter of any downed cattle, ban the slaughter of downed pigs and other farm animals, and prevent the USDA from reversing its administrative downer ban.

"While we are generally pleased with the announcement today, The Humane Society of the United States will continue to push for the adoption of a law approved by Congress to prevent the inhumane treatment of downed animals and to establish a stricter food safety standard," said Pacelle.

Farm Animals

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