Breaking news: Obama Administration closes loophole and forbids slaughtering downer calves

By on July 13, 2016 with 59 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Today, in yet another pro-animal rulemaking action, the Obama Administration made final a rule banning the slaughter of downer calves – an issue The HSUS put on the national radar screen with a pair of damning undercover investigations that threw back the curtain on the mistreatment of juvenile animals too sick or injured or weakened to walk to their own slaughter. The rule closes a loophole in a 2009 federal regulation that banned killing downed cattle for human consumption but did not include downer calves, leaving them vulnerable to abuse and suffering. The 2009 and now the 2016 rules go a long way toward addressing the abuse of these animals, but more work remains, perhaps with the next administration, to address the widespread abuse of downer pigs.

The HSUS filed a legal petition after an undercover investigation at Bushway Packing, Inc., a veal calf slaughter plant in Vermont, found workers kicking, slapping, and shocking infant calves with electric prods. Another HSUS undercover investigation in 2014 at Catelli Bros., a veal calf slaughter facility in New Jersey, showed more abuse of downer calves. Workers were recorded trying to lift calves by their tails, dragging them with chains, and spraying them with water to force them to stand up so that they could be inspected and slaughtered.

The HSUS filed a legal petition asking the USDA to close the loophole after an undercover investigation at Bushway Packing, Inc., a veal calf slaughter plant in Vermont, found workers kicking, slapping, and shocking infant calves with electric prods.

The HSUS filed a legal petition asking the USDA to close the loophole after an undercover investigation at Bushway Packing, Inc., a veal calf slaughter plant in Vermont, found workers kicking, slapping, and shocking infant calves with electric prods. Photo by The HSUS

We estimate that thousands of veal calves, most of them only a few days or weeks old, collapse on their way to slaughter every year. The very youngest calves, slaughtered to be sold as “bob veal,” are extremely vulnerable: they’re far more likely to collapse and become “downers” than mature cattle. A heartbreaking combination of mistreatment, genetic frailties, denial of sustenance, and the stress of being taken from their mothers mere hours after they’re born causes the calves to break down.

Animal scientist and meat industry consultant Dr. Temple Grandin has noted that “ninety percent of all downers are preventable” and that dairy producers create downers by denying calves their mothers’ colostrum and selling them at auction before they can walk. The USDA recognized in the proposed rule that the loophole allowing downer calves to be slaughtered “may have created an incentive for some establishments to inhumanely attempt to force these animals to rise.” The new rule will create a financial incentive for producers to treat all calves better to avoid creating downers, and take away any incentive to use cruel methods to force the calves through the slaughter process. Slaughterhouses will now be required to promptly and humanely euthanize all downer calves, just as they are already required to do for adult cattle. The agency also revised its regulations to make clear that humane handling requirements apply as soon as calves and other animals arrive at the slaughter establishment.

HSUS backers were instrumental in this outcome. They joined more than 150,000 Americans who wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to urge him to stop the slaughter of downer calves. Federal lawmakers also weighed in, with 92 representatives led by Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and 14 senators led by Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Cory Booker, D-N.J., sending letters to the USDA to urge final action on the rule. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., played a key role too, offering strong support. Dr. Dean Wyatt, a USDA veterinarian who tipped us off to the abuse of downer calves in slaughterhouses and gave powerful testimony to Congress about it, was a major force as well in bringing about this reform. We are grateful to the Obama Administration, which continues to take very meaningful steps forward to protect farm animals, horses, and wildlife and is cementing its record as the most pro-animal administration in our nation’s history.

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Farm Animals, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Keith Pension says:

    This is SUCH welcome news! Thanks to all who brought this matter to light and to the Obama administration for continuing humane legislatiom.

    • Barbara Porter says:

      I agree. It is nice to see. Thank you to all involved in getting this legislation passed. Also, thank you to President Obama for signing this into law. The factory farming industry needs a major overhaul, and this is a good start.p

    • Louise Martin says:

      Any animal saved from torture and slaughter is good so a good step. But our world is so crazy. If an animal is healthy it is okay to torture and slaughter them. I dont consume flesh or use any part of a dead carcass flesh.

    • Nancy Cooley says:

      Finally, he did something right! I doubt that he even knows what he signed though.

  2. megahn hall says:

    This is great news. Thank-You Obama! And so much more work needs to be done in saving innocent animals. This is another great start.

  3. Peggy Ellison says:

    Thank you,Wayne, for this most important work in saving the calves from further abuse before the slaughter.
    Thanks to President Obama for helping our animals. I am terribly concerned that all the work he has done for our horses. I wish he could finish the horse slaughter work before he leaves office so you will not have to start over. If Trump gets in, I am afraid he will Rev up the killing and all our wonderful horses and burros will be gone. I am sad.

    • Barb G. says:

      Peggy, Just how do you know what Trump will do about the on going cruelty
      to farm animals??? He’s never mentioned anything about farm animals that I have heard you are assuming something about a person without knowing anything. What needs to be done is stopping the U.S. from allowing horses to be shipped to slaughter in Canada. There is a lot organizations that have been fighting this for years I belong to several. Animal Angels just sent out a notice that since the EU has banned U.S. horse meat from being shipped to the EU countries from Mexico the kill buyers don’t have a country to sell it too so they have turned to other work. There is only three countries scattered around the world Russia is one that is not buying horse meat from Mexico like they were doing before the ban went into effect. This has saved thousands of horse lives including many ex-race horses and brood mares that are shipped out to slaughter when they can’t reproduce any longer or can’t win races. Canada was not told to not ship U.S. horse meat to the EU nobody seems to know why its the same U.S. horses that Mexico was killing the vet drugs are still in the meat going to the EU. There are groups in Canada that are working to stop all horses from being slaughtered its been a long road they are working to try to see if the change in government will help to stop it.
      Japan buys the large draft horses in Canada that are flown to Japan for slaughter Japan does like its sushi. These horses are raised for slaughter from what I understand the breeder runs a slaughter plant along with being paid $2000.00 for each of these big horses
      I will tell you one thing Hillary sure won’t do anything to stop the cruelty.

      • Rhonda says:

        Donald Trump and his trashy sons are hunters. They do canned hunts and post pictures of themselves next to the animals they have murdered. They have no respect for life. At least Hillary is married to a vegan. I cant stand any of them which is why I’m voting for Clifton Roberts for the Humane Party.
        So Barb G. I will send your question to Peggy back to you. How do YOU know Hillary won’t do anything to stop the cruelty? You don’t, but I do know Clifton Roberts will do everything he can to stop it.

      • Shirlee Schremp says:

        She can go by the lack of empathy he has shown human beings. The man is a bully. He is an indecent man.. This dolt would be right on the side of business.

      • Lorey says:

        I believe she was speaking about the wild horses and burros. I have to say I agree with her because I do think he will cater to the big money cattle industry.

      • b18brat says:

        Barb, you berated Peggy for her assumption about Trump but just made the same assumption about Hillary. I don’t believe either candidate has said anything about where they stand on animal rights so why not leave that out of the conversation entirely?

      • Sandie says:

        I agree… It’s a no important issue for her even if she tells you she will do something. It’s way too low on the list . What a shame, I don’t trust her any more.

      • Barbie says:

        Well said! I agree 100%! It makes me sick for horses, especially race horses who gave their all & any animal to be treated so INHUMANE & slaughtered at all. They do it to precious dogs too. Really sickening & heart breaking!0

      • Pete Teraspulsky says:

        To Barb G.,
        In addition to Rhonda’s comment’s first 2 sentences, you should know that Hillary Clinton is the first presumptive presidential nominee in history to have the phrase “Animal Rights” in the ISSUES aspect on her official website, see

    • marsi says:

      Why would Trump rev UP the killing??

    • Morgan says:

      Trump won’t get elected.

  4. Marjorie Brown says:

    Woo hoo!

  5. Linda Keener says:

    We are a sick and cruel human race and it’s not ok – thank you to the Obama administration for continuing humane legislation. All these cattle farmers see are dollar signs with no welfare for the animals – pretty disgusting

    • Morgan says:

      Agree with you Linda Kenner. It is such a complex web – money /survival / greed / lost of perspective / of ethics / of compassion. I ache for these animals. Maybe there is such a thing as karma.

  6. Linda Keener says:

    Thank god we don’t eat dogs in the USA

    • Barbara says:

      Linda, are you sure somewhere in the US that dogs aren’t being eaten?

    • Jon says:

      No difference whatsoever besides skewed emotional attachment

    • jeannie says:

      No they just load them up and ship them overseas where they are tortured, skinned alive, boiled in hot grease while is no different for dogs or cats than it is for horses and cattle and pigs.

    • Grace says: dogs….just most all the other living, breathing sentient creatures we share this planet with…. but what the hell …as long as its not a dog it appears that all is right with the world. good to know …

  7. Renee King-Sonnen says:

    Thank you for all do to advance the cause to relieve and stop animal suffering!

  8. Angela Grammatico says:

    When is this torment going to STOP !

  9. Angela Grammatico says:

    This must STOP !

  10. Heather Hollowell says:

    Thank you for everything you do for animals, especially those who for one reason or another do not otherwise receive much public attention, and therefore are more likely to suffer inadequate, cruel, and/or inhumane treatment. Just as Mother Teresa tended to the poorest of the poor, so, too, does HSUS devote itself to the most vulnerable among us. May your voice grow ever louder and more powerful until one day we treat all who tread this earth, regardless of species, with dignity and respect.

  11. Cheryl Wilson says:

    Give me a break! Thank you Obama for still allowing the abuse, torture, limbs ripped out while these poor beings are still alive, throats slit from end to end while they scream, limbs cut out while they scream, endless murder by the masses!! These people here probably all eat meat and contribute to this entire barbaric, prehistoric, caveman mentality !!! If anybody here would watch their precious babies slaughtered they would consider it horrifying but for some sadistic reason people don’t care the animals go through this! So all I have to say is thanks Obama for nothing! Slaughterhouses need to be shut down! People need to start eating in the 21st-century! People need to stop being self-centered self entitled and start realizing that other things matter on this planet other than themselves!

    • Niveda says:

      Although I agree with your sentiment wholeheartedly, it can only ever be a gradual step-by- step process. It took years and years for the animal industry to get to the horrific state it is in and as such it will take just as long to heal. So we just have to keep pushing towards the end goal and be grateful for all the small victories.

    • Nancy P says:


    • Nancy Cooley says:

      Finally, he did something right! I doubt that he even knows what he signed though.

    • Milú Grilo says:

      Cheryl Wilson
      Agree with you 100%
      Slaughter houses must be shut down.
      People who eat meat and animal products are sadistic! Can not see beyond their noses!
      Or just don’t care about the suffering of other beings!
      Living in the dark ages! Creating HELL for innocent beings.

      My heart is with all the animals being tortured/murdered….

    • Xandri says:

      I completely agree with you!!! Being vegan is the only way to stop this madness.

    • Val says:

      Have any of you actually been to one of these places that slaughter these animals?? Have you ever actually heard an animal “scream” when they are killed?? I agree that “slaughter farms” are a terrible blight on the earth and need to be stopped. They are the ones who are causing such a big problem. I grew up on a family farm in the midwest, and if we had a sick calf or even a grown animal, they were treated with antibiotics till they were well. If they could not recover, they were humanly killed before they could suffer any longer. We raised some of our cattle for our own personal meat, and when it was time to butcher, they had NO idea that they were going to be killed. My dad would put a bullet in their head and they died instantly!! Never ever, not once did I ever hear any of the animals we used for food “scream!!!!!!!” You are trying to put a human emotion into an animal, and there is no such thing. You are vegan and that is fine…but just like any other cause on this earth, you do not have the right to blame every good farmer for something “slaughter farms” are doing. I do not force you to eat meat, or even downgrade you because you don’t, and the same practice should be done by all of you. Thank you!

      • S says:

        Humans are animals-we evolved from chimpanzees. If the tables were turned so that an animal killed your father you would want that animal to be euthanised because you have double standards.

    • Jean says:

      Well Cheryl your all or nothing attitude like yours does not serve anyone or anything. You would prefer a perfect world in which everyone leaps to do your bidding immediately. Unfortunately but realistically things happen in steps. This is a step. In truth, people like you actually are likely to accomplish less than those who work in the trenches taking very little victory that they can. A lot of people (including me) wish that slaughterhouses were shut down. Hopefully it will happen one day but in the meantime why slag people when they actually accomplish something…no matter how small it seems.

    • Grace says:

      I agree Cheryl. There should not even be any calves stolen from their moms and shipped anywhere….stop consuming milk that belongs to calves, meat that is not meant for humans with our pretty obvious non carnivorous physiology, and get on the bandwagon to Save this Earth as there is no hope as long as we continue to eat ourselves to the end of Time, and slaughter everything in sight!

  12. Mary W says:

    Thank you so much for all the work you and others have done on an issue that should have been clear and DONE from the beginning of humans using animals.

  13. shirley wilkerson says:

    Thank you Obama Administration for a major first step forward!!!

  14. Theresa Velazquez says:

    this is really great but i hat seeing any animal be killed like this for no reason!

  15. Lisa says:

    What incentives? There now required to euthanize them humanly and promptly? How prompt? And if they dont follow this whats the consequence? As long as factory farming exists these animals are suffering.

  16. Lisa says:

    As long as factory farming exists these animals are suffering. Dirt and concrete congested pins is there life. These animals are meant to be under open sky and grazing on grass. This is something that should be pushed . The quality of life there given before there slaughtered for uneccessary human consumption.

    • Sheila Stevens says:

      I’ve seen cattle in pens with feces up to their knees in California. That is horrible and makes me sick!! At least let them graze under the blue skies in acres of grass before their demise. Every time I see the tv commercial that says happy cows come from CA. It makes me sick..

    • GT says:

      I agree. You are right! This is what needs to be pushed. I can’t agree with you more! Thank you!

  17. Karen Pierce says:

    Thank you HSUS for your years of persistency to close these loopholes on downer calves. Thank you President Obama and all our Federal lawmakers who supported this bill.
    You are all wonderful Americans. You care about all including our animals.
    There is no reason to treat animals inhumanely. None!
    People, industries that do just do not have a conscience. I don’t know how they can live with themselves.
    Keep up the good work HSUS and all who support your missions.
    I will also continue my support.

  18. Nancy P says:

    Since we know animals are capable of suffering, we acknowledge our ethical responsibility to treat them with care and respect. However, reducing suffering or eliminating one part of suffering is not the ultimate solution. If we want to live in a compassionate, civilized society, we need to stop turning sentient beings into commodities; they always lose their freedom and are always ultimately put into harm’s way. All are slaughtered for food and products that no one needs, especially in developed countries.

  19. Shirlee Schremp says:

    Thank you President Obama.

  20. Nicole says:

    This is only a small step in the right direction. I do not think that there is enough work or discussion being made by the states or the government to stop factory farming. I don’t think that they put enough focus or effort into providing humane farming at all. There is much more that they can do but, they turn away when they hear about animal abuse in factory farms because it is difficult to fight or is a long process to deal with. It just amazes me how organic farming is not supported by society, because monopoly businesses have found a way to produce a product faster and bigger for a cheap price even though that product(a helpless animal) was exposed to health defects, abuse, and disease. I do believe that eating meat is good, but we need to care, nurture, and give the animal a healthy and safe life in the process.

  21. Shraddha bodas says:

    Please take action against animal cruelty.

  22. Shraddha bodas says:

    Please take action against animal cruelty.Animals are not our foods.Every animals have to right to survive in the world.

  23. Nancy Shankin says:

    Shut these mills down!!!!

  24. john miller says:

    Thank you Mr. OBAMA for doing this! is such a priority ,if you can closed the loop pole on terrorist coming into the country illegally and killing Americans, close the loophole on immigrants coming to America and killing us. yes the cows have priority you are such a good president.

  25. suzy says:

    why allow the slaughters to continue when Grandin herself says downers can be prevented? why is that completely stepped over? things that make you go hmm.

  26. Carrie says:

    There is NO Humanity in the slaughtering of innocent animals! Meat is not a necessity it is a preference . How many of us would still eat meat if we had to slaughter the animal ourselves? Maybe it would be a lot easier to become a vegan if we all had to raise the animal, slaughter them, and prepare them.

  27. Angie says:

    This doesn’t save any animals…they’re still being killed, just one way for unnecessary human consumption, the other with euthanasia…Shut down the slaughter houses and then you’ll see true justice for the animals.

  28. asha says:

    So what is going to happen to these poor “downer” animals?

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