The Humane Society of the United States released more details of an undercover investigation into unacceptable and callous animal cruelty at a Vermont slaughter plant, including footage of a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector apparently failing to enforce federal humane treatment laws, and the plant co-owner participating in the abuse with gusto.
Release of the new video footage followed a preliminary release of the investigation on Friday after state and federal officials shut down the operations of Bushway Packing, Inc. in Grand Isle, Vt., and launched a thorough investigation into the abuse. The facility slaughters days-old male dairy calves—many so young that their umbilical cords still hang from their bodies—for so-called "bob veal."
In one scene, a worker attempts to skin a calf who is still alive, directly in front of a USDA inspector. This government official tells the worker, on hidden camera, that if another USDA inspector saw this, the plant would be shut down, but he allows the abuse to continue. In another scene, the slaughter plant's co-owner, who has claimed in press reports that he had no knowledge of cruel treatment at his facility, is shown shocking downed calves with electric prods in futile attempts to force them to stand. Prodding one calf to stand up, he says to the animal, "There ain't nothing wrong with you, sh*t box." At one point he jokes that one of the staggering calves "looks like you on a Friday night," referring to the USDA inspector, who laughs at the co-owner's joke.
"The abuse of these infant calves is merciless," said Michael Markarian, HSUS chief operating officer. "There is no excuse for skinning animals alive and shocking them time after time with electric prods when it's obvious they are too weak to stand. We need stronger policies and better enforcement to prevent the inhumane treatment of these animals."
Reforms Urgently Needed
The HSUS called for a series of policy reforms to prevent such abuse. These reforms include:
1. Close the loophole in the federal regulation that allows downer calves to be slaughtered for food. Earlier this year, President Obama and the USDA banned the slaughter of all adult downer cattle, requiring that they be humanely euthanized rather than dragged to slaughter. The HSUS applauded that move. However, the regulations still allow downer calves to be slaughtered in certain circumstances, leading to the type of cruelty The HSUS uncovered at Bushway.
2. Require that calves under 10 days of age not be considered fit for transport. The European Union already has a similar regulation, but in the United States, calves only hours or days old can be transported for up to 28 hours without food, water or even enough space to lie down. As a result, many newborn calves are transported to plants like Bushway, where those who survive the trip arrive weak, malnourished and often unable to stand.
3. Overhaul the federal inspection system for humane handling, with changes to include improving inspector training, requiring more continuous observation of live animal handling, and creating an agency ombudsman position to take complaints and tips from whistleblowers.
The HSUS today filed a rulemaking petition with the USDA to close the regulatory loophole regarding downer calves.
The HSUS investigator worked as a floor cleaner at the plant from late August through the end of September and gathered hidden-camera evidence showing:
- Live animals placed in piles with dead animals. The USDA inspector present told the HSUS investigator on video not to tell him if a live calf was in the pile of dead animals because, "I'm not supposed to know. I could shut them down for that."
- The frequent use of electric prods and kicking animals in an attempt to force the newborn calves to stand. Some calves are shocked more than 30 times, and in at least one case, water was splashed on one calf to accentuate the effect of the electric shocking.
- Slaughter plant workers performing improper stunning methods to knock the animals unconscious, including stunning calves en masse in a crowded room as opposed to individually restraining them to make the stunning more accurate. Federal law requires that animals be rendered insensible to pain before being bled out and dismembered.
After reviewing the undercover footage obtained by the HSUS investigator, animal scientists Temple Grandin, Ph.D, and Kurt Vogel pronounced that, "the handling practices and attention to insensibility at this plant are unacceptable and must improve."
The investigation comes nearly two years after The HSUS' investigation of a California dairy cow slaughter plant documented routine abuse of animals slaughtered to supply the nation's school lunch program and led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history.
The HSUS filed a complaint with the USDA and Vermont Agency of Agriculture last week, citing possible violations of the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and Vermont's anti-cruelty statute. The HSUS commends U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Vermont Agriculture Secretary Roger Allbee for suspending operations at the plant and launching a thorough investigation in response to these allegations.
- When dairy cows give birth to male calves, the calves are often sold to veal factory farms where they are unable to turn around or stretch their limbs, or instead they are slaughtered for "bob veal" within about a week of being born.
- About 700,000 veal calves are slaughtered in the United States annually, approximately 15 percent of whom are bob veal calves under the age of three weeks.
- Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine and Michigan have passed laws phasing out the extreme confinement of calves in veal crates but still allow transport and slaughter of calves at any age.
The agriculture industry trade publication Feedstuffs editorialized in September about a series of investigations conducted by animal organizations: "It's important to understand that companies and producers can't just say 'bad apple' and move on because—to consumers who have seen these videos again and again—there are no bad apples anymore. The bad apple, to consumers now, is the industry." Feedstuffs also opined that, "It [egregious mistreatment of animals] has to stop....There is no excuse because what's really being violated, breaking down and failing is not policy but ethics and morality, and no number of after-the-fact investigations and statements will make up for that."