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)

Coalition to USDA: Step Up Enforcement for Farm Animals

Pigs in a slaughterhouse holding pen.

Pigs in a slaughterhouse holding pen.

By Bruce Friedrich, Director of Policy and Advocacy

Earlier this month, Farm Sanctuary joined forces with five other nonprofits — Animal Legal Defense Fund, Compassion Over Killing, Farm Forward, Mercy for Animals, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — in submitting a 38-page petition for rulemaking to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), calling on the Agency to stop almost entirely ignoring the Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act (HMSA).

We did this because the HMSA is grossly neglected by the agency charged with enforcing it, so that animals are being tortured in U.S. slaughterhouses, even though there are USDA inspectors on site who could stop it. This petition is focused on stopping illegal cruelty, and does not imply that there is any such thing as “humane slaughter” — we see those terms as inherently contradictory.

Our petition asks that:

  • USDA’s definition of “egregious” as applied to the HMSA be codified in regulation;
  • USDA ensure that all violations of HMSA result in at least a “Noncompliance Record” (NR) to document the violation;
  • USDA ensure that all egregious violations of HMSA result in at least a plant suspension;
  • USDA refer reckless and intentional cruelty for criminal prosecution;
  • USDA create a structure for closing down the worst slaughterhouses completely.

We are making these recommendations because:

  • Undercover investigations have documented almost unfathomable abuse at USDA-inspected slaughterhouses, abuse that was not caught or cited by USDA’s inspectors in the plants in question.
  • USDA’s own OIG and the Government Accountability Office have both consistently documented lax enforcement of the HMSA, and they have called for USDA to do better. But the agency has not improved.
  • FOIA records from USDA document workers running over crippled animals with construction equipment and electrocuting them in their genitals and anuses, animals running around the slaughter floor with massive head wounds, animals regaining consciousness mid-slaughter, and plants that continue to operate even after being cited many times for inhumane slaughter.

Although our requests involve only small changes to current FSIS policy, they will significantly improve compliance with the mandates of the HMSA if implemented.

You can read the full petition here.

Cow's eyes

A cow looks out from a transport vehicle.

Humane Meat: A Contradiction in Terms

By Bruce Friedrich, Director of Policy and Advocacy

People have become increasingly aware that virtually all of the 9 billion land animals slaughtered in the United States each year for their meat are terribly mistreated. In fact, routine farming practices are so abusive that they would warrant felony animal cruelty charges if they were done to cats or dogs.


As a result, more and more compassionate people have joined the ranks of those who choose to eat a vegan diet. Some, however, have looked instead to meat from animals treated less badly, which is often stamped with a “humane certified,” or other such label, and may be referred to as “humane meat.”

This raises two questions in my mind. First, is there such a thing as truly “humane meat”? And second, even if we agree that some meat involves better conditions than conventional meat, should animal advocates promote it? I will address both questions in turn.

Is there such a thing as humane meat?
Let’s pose a question: Would you be willing to eat “humanely raised dog meat” or “humanely raised cat meat”?


I suspect not, and yet there is no rational difference between eating a dog or a pig, a cat or a chicken. All of these species are made of flesh, blood, and bone. And they have interests and personalities, as everyone who has spent time at Farm Sanctuary knows so well.

In fact, scientists have shown that pigs and chickens outperform dogs and cats on scientific tests of behavioral and cognitive sophistication. For the same reason that there is no such thing as humane dog meat, there is also no such thing as humane chicken, pork, or beef. Simply put, killing an animal in order to eat her cannot be called humane.

Let’s pose a second question: Would you be willing to cut an animal’s throat? For most of us, taking an animal’s life is abhorrent; we just wouldn’t do it. Of course, all of us could spend an afternoon participating in every aspect of getting plants to the table — picking them, packaging them, etc. But there is no aspect of slaughtering animals that is similarly pleasant, no aspect that any of us would enjoy doing.


If you’re like most people, you would not slice open a chicken’s throat for something as inconsequential as a meal. But this is precisely what we’re doing if we’re eating meat. Although we’re not personally killing the animal, we are paying someone to do it for us. And if we wouldn’t do it ourselves — if we wouldn’t even want to watch it — we should ask ourselves, where is the basic integrity in paying someone to do something we are opposed to?

Should animal advocates promote “humane meat”?
We should also understand that our decisions can have a strong impact on other people, and our decision to eat any meat at all (even if the meat is from producers that are less abusive) may influence others to eat factory farmed meat.

I’ve been a vegan for 27 years, and, in that time, I’ve convinced many friends and acquaintances to follow my lead. Each one of these individuals saves just as many animals through their veganism as I do through mine. Every person I convince to choose a plant-based diet increases my lifetime impact as a vegan.

But the reverse is also true: By not advocating veganism, all of those animals who could have been saved will instead suffer terrible lives and die horrible deaths.

Most people observing someone eating “humane” meat simply see a fellow meat-eater. They are not likely to change their own diets, because what they see is simply meat. Beyond that, eating “humane” meat is far more difficult than eating a vegan diet. Every restaurant in the country has something for vegans to eat, and it’s almost always cheaper than the meat-based alternatives. The vast majority of cities don’t have even a single restaurant that serves meat from animals who have not been factory farmed.

Obviously, working for improved living and dying conditions for farmed animals is a critical element in the animal rights movement. We should be fighting to ban gestation crates and battery cages. We should be working to ensure that the Humane Slaughter Act is properly enforced. The vast majority of Americans explicitly support banning abusive systems and decreasing abuse at slaughter, and we should strive to align our laws with our national values.

It’s important for the animals involved that we take steps toward ending the cruelty they endure every day. We cannot ignore the animals who are currently suffering.

But for anyone who truly cares about animals, veganism is the only choice that aligns our values — our opposition to cruelty and killing — with our actions.

It’s not that much to ask, and lives are depending on us.