Recent footage of the Portales Livestock Auction in Portales, N.M., shows abusive handling of cattle similar to the mistreatment of nonambulatory animals at a California slaughterhouse that led to the nation's largest-ever beef recall earlier this year.
The Humane Society of the United States released the footage June 25, following an undercover operation in May. The AVMA condemned the cruelty and called for adherence to humane handling guidelines. The U.S. agriculture secretary, Ed Schafer, reacted to the footage by again asking the beef industry to refrain from slaughtering nonambulatory cattle while the Department of Agriculture writes a rule to ban the practice entirely.
The footage from the Portales Livestock Auction shows workers shocking cows with electric prods in attempts to force the animals to walk—as well as dragging a cow and kicking a calf. The HSUS asked the USDA to impose an immediate ban on slaughter of nonambulatory cattle and to regulate handling of such animals by livestock markets.
"The abuses of these suffering creatures must be stopped, to protect both animal welfare and food safety," said Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and chief executive officer.
The slaughter of nonambulatory cattle at the California plant led to the beef recall earlier in the year because of the possibility that the animals had bovine spongiform encephalopathy or another disease of concern for human health.
"The safety of our nation's food supply depends on the health and welfare of our nation's livestock, and the importance of humanely handling that livestock cannot be overstated," said Dr. Ron DeHaven, AVMA chief executive officer. "Everyone involved in animal agriculture, whether on farms or in processing facilities, shares an ethical responsibility to protect the health and welfare of animals used for food production."
Dr. DeHaven said potential solutions to abuses include comprehensive training and certification of livestock workers in humane handling, additional veterinary oversight at production and processing facilities, vigilance by the livestock industry in ensuring adherence to humane handling guidelines, and rigorous enforcement of state and federal regulations regarding animal care and handling at livestock facilities.
The AVMA has several long-standing policies that emphasize humane treatment of agricultural animals.
"We have worked hard—and will continue to do so—to get our policies fully integrated throughout the industry," said Dr. Gail C. Golab, director of the AVMA Animal Welfare Division. "Those policies clearly state that anyone who deals with animals has an obligation to stop—and prevent—this type of cruelty."
Agriculture Secretary Schafer said the inhumane handling in Portales is an unfortunate situation and his department deplores such behavior. He added, however, that a slaughterhouse would not accept nonambulatory cattle on delivery.
Under current regulations, cattle that become nonambulatory at a slaughterhouse after passing initial inspection can enter the slaughter process if a second inspection finds that the animal cannot walk for a reason that would not threaten the food supply, such as a limb injury. The USDA has proposed a rule to eliminate this exception.