Farm Sanctuary Speaks Out on USDA Labeling Guidelines — Have Your Say

Citizens are appalled to learn of the horrendous suffering that is commonplace in the production of meat, milk, and eggs, and they are increasingly looking for alternatives. Agribusiness has responded by marketing animal products with labels suggesting that farm animals are being treated well. But these labels make conditions sound better than they are, and well-meaning consumers are being misled.

The USDA is currently accepting public input on proposed labeling guidelines that are woefully inadequate, and Farm Sanctuary is encouraging citizens to weigh in and express their opinions. We’ve submitted the comments below.


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You can read more about the proposed guidelines and submit comments, which are due by December 5, 2016, here.

USDA Broadens Ban on Downed Cattle Slaughter to Include Calves

By: Gene Baur

The Obama Administration has published a rule to strengthen federal regulations and prohibit the cruel treatment and slaughter of downed calves,  broadening its existing ban on slaughtering downed cattle to include calves as well. This is important because calves, especially those from dairy farms who are taken from their mothers at birth, are frail and susceptible to illness and disease.

Frail calves, sometimes just hours old, are sent to livestock markets where they often succomb to illness and disease. Many of the newborn calves who are sent to stockyards are the offspring of dairy cows. The cows must be impregnated and give birth in order to produce milk. (Feel free to distribute freely for not-for-profit use, but please credit Farm Sanctuary. If you are media and are in need of a high-resolution version of this image, please contact us requesting the file “S7,14a_300_1”.)

Frail calves, sometimes just hours old, are sent to livestock markets where they often succumb to illness and disease.

Agribusiness had been allowed to truck sick and dying calves to slaughterhouses in order to profit from their slaughter, but this will now be prohibited. And, besides preventing the suffering of debilitated young calves during transport and at the slaughterhouse, this policy also provides an incentive for farmers to take better care of their animals in order to prevent them from becoming downers in the first place.

This is a positive development, which represents another incremental step towards lessening the suffering and abuse of downed animals (i.e. animals too sick even to stand).

After Farm Sanctuary’s rescue of Hilda, a downed sheep who was left on the “dead pile” behind Lancaster Stockyards in 1986, media exposés about downed animal abuses in the 80s and 90s led the USDA to start a surveillance program to monitor stockyards. The Agency even tried to prosecute stockyards for mistreating downed animals, but that effort ended when a court ruled that USDA had no legal authority to address animal welfare at stockyards. The law (i.e. the Packers and Stockyards Act) required stockyards to provide adequate care to maintain the economic “value” of the animals, but if an animal was discarded and considered to have no economic value, stockyards were legally allowed to leave them to suffer and die with impunity.
tumblr_leme0sf7761qb7khho1_500In the 1990s, we broadened our effort to address the abuse of downed animals at slaughterhouses, in addition to stockyards and auctions. The primary federal law addressing farm animal welfare in the U.S., ironically, is the Humane Slaughter Act. The USDA has a notoriously poor track record of enforcing this law, but it has adopted some positive positions regarding downed animals over the years, usually because of pressure.

In 2001, Farm Sanctuary brought a lawsuit to end the slaughter of downed animals for human food, citing animal welfare and human health concerns, including the threat of mad cow disease. The USDA denied the existence of mad cow disease in the U.S. until December, 2003, when mad cow disease was confirmed in a downed cow in Washington State. After that discovery, our lawsuit was settled in 2004 with the USDA agreeing that downed cattle would not be used for human food and banning the delivery of downed cattle to slaughterhouses. But the meat industry was able to insert a loophole during the regulatory process, which prohibited downed cattle from being accepted at the slaughterhouse, but strangely allowed cattle who walked into the slaughterhouse but then became downed afterwards to be used for human food. In 2008, an exposé showed a southern California slaughterhouse exploiting this loophole, and violating federal and state downed animal regulations and laws (California enacted a law to restrict the abuses of downed animals in 1994), which led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history. Once again, a light was shined on downed animal abuse, and the USDA was compelled to tighten its downed animal rules.

We are encouraged to see how much progress has been made, and look forward to seeing no downer policies extend to pigs and other animals as well. We and our colleagues in the animal rights community will keep the pressure on.

opie before and after

Once discarded as a downer, Opie survived and went on to live a long and happy life at Farm Sanctuary. (Photo at right by Jo-Anne McArthur/WeAnimals)

Goliath Kills Thousands of Dairy Cows

As 2015 drew to a close, a deadly winter weather system raged across the U.S., lashing multiple states with wind and snow. The storm, named Goliath, claimed among its casualties more than 30,000 cows on dairy farms in Texas and New Mexico. As the Weather Channel reports, it is believed that many of the cows suffocated to death when they were pushed against fences by snowdrifts up to 14 feet high. So many cows perished that farmers have struggled to dispose of the bodies.

Though the immediate cause of death for these cows was a natural disaster, the ultimate cause was man-made. As we saw last year in the massive death toll of the 2015 bird flu outbreak and the Ohio highway disaster that killed hundreds of piglets, the animal agriculture industry’s reliance on raising, transporting, and slaughtering animals on a large scale creates the conditions for large-scale tragedy. Designed to maximize output while minimizing costs, this production model prohibits adequate health and safety measures for individual animals. The cows who died in Texas and New Mexico were kept in large numbers on farms where they did not have access to the shelter, dedicated onsite staff, and individual attention that could have saved them from death in the blizzard.

Farm Sanctuary cattle

Farm Sanctuary Shelter Manager Jill checks on herd members to make sure everyone is doing well in the snow.

At Farm Sanctuary, we are committed to the well-being of each and every animal in our care. Cattle at our shelters have access to warm barns at all times. During the winter, staff members diligently monitor and clear the pathways and outdoor areas our animals use to make sure that no one slips and falls. We also make maintain a caregiver-to-resident ratio that allows us to give individual attention to every animal, ensuring that no one is ever left out in the cold. Such precautions are costly, of course, but they are necessary for any operation that truly puts the animals first. On a commercial farm, where profit is the imperative, this sort of individual consideration is unfeasible; animal welfare and animal exploitation are irreconcilable.

It is not only the farmers themselves who place fiscal considerations above the well-being of individual animals. It is the pervasive view of farm animals as mere commodities that allows this industry to operate at all. Take the media coverage of this tragedy, which has emphasized the economic impact of the fatalities, and the resulting drop in the region’s milk production, on producers and consumers. In a society where we consume the bodily products of animals we never meet, a milk shortage will meet with a stronger reaction than will the deaths of 30,000 cows — sensitive, intelligent beings who, as we do, possessed personalities, desires, and fears.

Winter storm Goliath has now subsided, but another Goliath rampages on. The dairy industry, formidably armed with economic and political clout, exploits several million cows and kills approximately 2.5 million “spent” cows every year. Cows on dairy farms are subjected to a grueling cycle of insemination, pregnancy, and milking that leaves them frail and hurting. Their babies are taken away from them at birth, the females to be raised as replacements and the males to be sold at auction for veal or beef production. This is an industry that separates families, squeezes every cent it can from its animals, and discards those animals when they can no longer be milked for profit.

Farm Sanctuary resident DIane cow

At just five years of age, Farm Sanctuary resident Diane cow was considered “spent” and would have been auctioned off and slaughtered had her rescuer not stepped in to save her. Read Diane’s story at

Unlike a winter storm, this giant killer of cows and calves is not going away on its own. Along with our allies and supporters, Farm Sanctuary has been fighting on behalf of dairy cows and calves for three decades, and our resolve is as strong as ever. The first step in this fight is one anyone can take: Boycott dairy products. To find out what else you can do, please follow Farm Sanctuary on Facebook and Twitter and visit us at Together, we can stop this Goliath.

Notes from the Frontline: Campaigning for Farm Sanctuary

Farm animal confinement: Veal crates, gestation crates, and battery cages

By Dallas Ryan, Farm Sanctuary Intern

I had no idea what to expect. I was in Massachusetts, sent by Farm Sanctuary to collect signatures. The thought of going up to complete strangers and asking them for their support seemed rather nerve-wracking. Stepping outside my comfort zone and doing it anyway, however, led me to quickly realize just how rewarding campaigning and gathering signatures is, especially if done in the name of something you truly believe in.

Signature-gathering for animals

The author with a compassionate signer!

Whether it was outside the local grocery store or walking on campus, most people have had some sort of encounter with signature-gatherers. The reactions of those walking by are always mixed: Some hurriedly say no, while others ignore.

And then there are those who stop to learn more. Though signatures are our goal, I know our mere presence is making a sizable difference in the public’s awareness – even among those who walk right on by. If, just for a second, I allowed them see something they had never seen or thought twice about before, that is success. For all I know, they could have looked up our efforts online later that day and spread the word during dinner. These types of reminders are important to keep in mind, especially when one finds the job exhausting or when the number of failed attempts to reach people becomes discouraging.

The best and most reassuring reminder of all: why you’re standing there and who you’re standing up for.

For me, other Farm Sanctuary volunteers, and the many others involved in this particular campaign, it’s the animals on factory farms in Massachusetts suffering every day from cruel and inhumane confinement practices. As part of the Citizens for Farm Animal Protection – a broad coalition of non-profit organizations, farmers and businesses, community leaders, and grassroots activists – we are working to enact a ballot measure in Massachusetts that will ban three of the most cruel and inhumane confinement practices used on factory farms: veal crates, gestation crates, and battery cages.

Signature-gathering for animals

A concerned Massachusetts resident signs the petition!

All those offering their signatures and spreading the word are helping us make sure calves are no longer taken from their mothers and placed in crates designed to keep them deprived and immobilized for the remainder of their lives.

Everyone signing is helping to protect pigs, highly intelligent creatures who need a certain level of mental stimulation (like humans), from being subjected to gestation crates built only about two feet wide.

And of course, citizens’ support is also helping us ban battery cages and protect hens from being crammed, five or more hens to a single cage, with dimensions that allow each animal less space than the size of a standard piece of paper.

If this law is passed, Massachusetts will join ten other U.S. states that have already passed laws to address these kinds of inhumane practices. The opportunity to save these animals from horrible suffering makes all the hard work involved in campaigning more than worth it. At the end of the day, all I have to do is remember how many animals are depending on me to be their voice and end their suffering. And this is what has and will continue to keep me going, one signature at a time.

Thanks to the efforts of Dallas and hundreds of others, the Coalition was successful in gathering all the required signatures in the first portion of the ballot initiative process. Stay tuned for updates!

Want to intern to help farm animals? Learn about Farm Sanctuary’s internship program.

We Are Not Alone

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

Sonny steer at Farm Sanctuary

I turned around and Sonny was there.

I was having a really sad day. I decided to walk up the hill to find my best pal, a steer named Sonny. For five minutes straight, I just hugged him, wetting his neck with possibly a gallon of tears. Knowing I had to get back to work, I finally parted with him and walked down the hill toward the shelter buildings.

After a while, I heard a noise and turned. Sonny had left the herd and followed me. He knew I needed him, so he was there.

Just like us, animals need to feel that they are not alone. During my two decades in animal sheltering, I have witnessed the power of family and friendship every single day. All creatures have a will to live, and friendship motivates them to live their best, supported by and supporting others.

Here are my favorite examples from the past year.

Farm Sanctuary sheep residents Tracey, Louise, Hazelton, Reubie, and Summer

Louise, Tracey, Hazelton, Reubie, and Summer enjoying a beautiful day at sanctuary.

In February, three lambs were born at our New York Shelter. Far along in their pregnancies when they were rescued from neglect, mamas Tracey and Louise (Tracey’s daughter) faced high-risk deliveries, but with the help of devoted shelter staff, everyone made it through. Tracey, who delivered son Hazelton first, supported Louise during the birth of twins Reubie and Summer, calling out to the younger ewe throughout her labor. Tracey also nursed Summer when Louise couldn’t produce enough milk for both twins.

As dairy sheep, Tracey and Louise endured repeated impregnation. Though Tracey was allowed to keep Louise, all of her sons were likely taken away to be sold for slaughter. Hazelton was the first son she was allowed to keep, and she wasn’t about to let anything happen to him. When we introduced the group to our main flock, Tracey immediately began putting everyone in their place, head-butting even the largest males, so all knew that her family was not to be bothered.

Sheep express affection and devotion primarily through physical closeness, which is why you’ll find this family sticking together and sleeping side-by-side at night. For Tracey and her clan, sanctuary means being together.

Romy lamb and Levi goat at Farm Sanctuary

Levi, right, with his best friend Romy

Levi was found loose in NYC after escaping from a storefront slaughterhouse. During his first weeks at sanctuary, he stayed indoors sitting on a hay bale. We feared this behavior arose from health issues, but it turned out that Levi, who had likely witnessed the slaughter of his herd mates, was simply too terrified to do much of anything. Though we approached him with gentleness and care, he could not trust us.

That all changed when he met Romy, a lamb who came to us from a small farm where he was found alone and dying in the cold rain. When Romy was finally well enough to go outside into his yard, Levi couldn’t help coming out into his own adjacent yard to investigate. Within hours, the little goat who had been paralyzed by fear was running, jumping, and kicking up his heels as he played with his new best friend.

Following the lead of gregarious Romy, Levi has become a whole new goat, bravely walking right up to human visitors. His friendship with Romy has transformed him, and his world, once limited to the corner of a hospital pen, has gotten a whole lot bigger.

Calvin, Vince, and Paul Harvey goats at Farm Sanctuary

Vince, center, with his best friends Calvin, left, and Paul Harvey.

Vince had a rough start in life. Born at a goat dairy — a male kid in an industry that has very little use for males — he was used as partial payment to a tree trimmer. But the tree trimmer didnʼt want him either, and went door-to-door in his neighborhood trying to sell him. Things started to look up for Vince when he was taken in by a kind woman who wanted to protect him, but she soon discovered that her little charge was very sick. She contacted Farm Sanctuary, and we were able to get Vince the care he needed, which included antibiotics, tube feedings, and medication for his pain. Slowly but surely, he began to feel better, and he was finally able to leave the veterinary hospital and come home to our Acton shelter. But goats are herd animals; Vince was lonely as the new and only kid at the shelter.

Fortuitously, we learned that a combination goat dairy/sanctuary is phasing out their dairy business to focus on their sheltering work. Though the sanctuary’s operators initially intended to support their sheltering work by selling dairy products from the goats in their care, they eventually realized that this model was not sustainable. Goats, like all other mammals, must be impregnated in order to lactate. That means that goat dairies produce not only milk but also baby goats. The facility had more goats than it could handle.

Enter Calvin and Paul Harvey, the best friends Vince could have hoped for! The trio has become a source of endless entertainment for sanctuary guests and staff. One of their favorite games is bouncing off caregivers who are bent over or lying on the ground with them. Buoyed by the friendship they share and the caring people all around them, the kids are keen to explore and experiment. For these best friends, the sanctuary is the best kind of playground.

Anna & Maybelle piglets at Farm Sanctuary

Anna & Maybelle — the best of friends and sweet as can be! Follow their adventures in their new home at The Daily Squeal!

Anna and Maybelle had likely fallen off a transport vehicle before they were spotted wandering on a busy roadside. Piglets are notorious for squirming their way out of trailers, and they sometimes fall out onto the road without the driver even noticing (this in addition to the countless piglets and other farm animals who end up on the road when transport vehicles crash or overturn); many of our residents came to us after these accidents. Such incidents can be fatal for the young animals, but Anna and Maybelle were lucky enough to avoid being seriously injured in the fall or getting hit by another vehicle. They also had each other, which was surely a comfort during their two frightening days by the roadside. Right now, these piglets’ lives are all about exploration and fun — and each other. They play and dig and run with utter abandon, and they are always together. When separated for even a few moments, they squeal and run to search for one another. When we watch them romping and rooting, we recognize a common joy in simply being alive.

There are so many other beautiful bonds that we’ve seen over the years. It saddens me that the majority of industry-raised animals are deprived of these experiences, but at Farm Sanctuary, we take the time to nurture these ties that mean so much to our animal residents. We recognize that our animal residents share so much in common with us: awareness, intelligence, rich emotional lives. Just like us, they crave companionship, playmates, and a support network — and making sure they have it is a vital part of the Farm Sanctuary life.