Today, we received more exciting news for our farm animal protection efforts: the Obama Administration released a proposed rule banning the slaughter of downer calves – juvenile animals too sick or injured or weakened to walk. This long-awaited proposal is the direct result of a legal petition we filed in 2009 after our undercover investigation at Bushway Packing, Inc., a veal calf slaughterhouse in Vermont. That investigation, which found workers kicking, slapping, and shocking with electric prods infant calves only a few days old – many with their umbilical cords still hanging from their bodies, sparked a congressional oversight hearing in 2010. This proposal has been many years in the waiting, but we’re thrilled it’s now moving and stands a strong chance of being adopted and made law.
It is estimated that thousands of veal calves collapse on their way to slaughter every year, most of them a few days or weeks old. Often these calves collapse due to a combination of mistreatment, genetic frailties, and the stress of being taken from their mothers within hours of birth. The youngest calves, slaughtered for “bob veal,” are so vulnerable to abuse that they are 10 times more likely to collapse and become “downers” than mature cattle.
In 2014, another HSUS undercover investigation at Catelli Bros., a veal calf slaughterhouse in New Jersey, confirmed that downer calves continue to suffer. Our investigator recorded workers kicking disabled calves, dragging them with chains, and even waterboarding them with hoses to try to force them to stand up so that they could be slaughtered. A dozen U.S. senators and 72 representatives signed letters to the USDA urging the agency to act swiftly on our petition, with major leadership provided by Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Reps. Grace Meng, D-N.Y and Rosa DeLauro, D- Conn.
Under the new proposed rule, slaughterhouses will be required to promptly and humanely euthanize all downer calves, just as is already required for adult cattle. This will not only prevent the abuse of downer calves, it will also create a financial incentive for producers to treat all calves better to avoid creating downers. Dr. Temple Grandin, a renowned animal scientist and consultant to the meat industry, notes that “ninety percent of all downers are preventable,” explaining that calves become downers because dairy producers deny the calves their mothers’ colostrum and sell them at auction before they can walk.
After our undercover investigation at the Hallmark-Westland slaughterhouse exposed downed dairy cows shocked with electric prods, kicked, and dragged to slaughter, the U.S. Department of Agriculture finally stopped the slaughter of all adult downer cattle. But following industry lobbying, the USDA left a loophole that allowed young and vulnerable downer calves to be slaughtered for human consumption.
Your support has been critical to closing this loophole. After the Bushway Packing investigation, more than 50,000 of you wrote to the Secretary of Agriculture, urging him to stop the slaughter of downed calves.
Now we need your support again to push this rule over the finish line and make it final (today’s announcement is a proposed rule). We’ve heard that the meat industry is already gearing up to oppose this commonsense reform, so the USDA needs to hear that compassionate Americans like you support it. Please urge the USDA to protect calves from abuse by quickly finalizing this proposed rule.