The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has approved the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) petition about the treatment of downer veal calves at slaughter. The petition, submitted in 2009, would close a loophole in regulations that allowed downer calves to be kept alive indefinitely. That leaves them prone to abuse. About 700,000 veal calves are slaughtered every year in this country. About 15% of those calves are under the age of three weeks.
No date for implementing the change has been announced. The petition was filed after an undercover HSUS investigation showed employees at a slaughterhouse in Vermont kicking and shocking downer calves to force them off trucks and into holding pens. This abuse occurred in front of an FSIS inspector, who failed to stop it.
Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president for animal protection litigation and investigations at HSUS said in a statement, “we are pleased the USDA is finally moving to address the serious animal welfare and food safety concerns associated with the slaughter of downer calves. We urge the agency to move forward on this issue to protect young calves from inhumane handling and slaughter, and revise its regulations without further delay.”
Adult downer cattle must be immediately and “humanely” euthanized rather than be dragged to slaughter, but downer calves were allowed to be kept alive. The USDA said the new policy will improve the agency’s inspection efficiency. HSUS says that keeping the sick calves alive increases food safety risks “because nonambulatory animals spend more time lying down, they are often forced to lie in excrement, which can lead to contamination of meat with fecal matter during the slaughtering process. Calf fecal matter may contain a number of pathogens that are dangerous to humans including Giardia, Salmonella, and potentially deadly strains of E. coli.”