Slaughter facilities won’t be able to hold downed calves

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Federal regulators will require euthanasia of any veal calves that become nonambulatory when offered for slaughter.

The Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is granting a 2009 petition from the Humane Society of the United States to stop letting slaughterhouse employees set aside veal calves when those animals are too tired or cold to walk. Current regulations require euthanasia and disposal of nonambulatory cattle offered for slaughter, with exceptions for veal calves deemed to be tired or cold and set aside for FSIS supervision.

Alfred V. Almanza, FSIS administrator, said in a letter to the HSUS that the change would reduce the time FSIS personnel spend assessing and supervising treatment of such calves and would improve compliance with the law on humane livestock handling and regulations on humane slaughter. The FSIS provided the letter March 19.

“The Agency agrees that the provision that allows veal calves to be set aside to be warmed or rested may create an incentive for establishments to inhumanely force non-ambulatory veal calves to rise and for veal calf producers to send weakened calves to slaughter,” Almanza said in the letter.

When the regulations change, slaughter facility employees likely will have to administer euthanasia to any veal calves that are unable to rise. But Almanza noted that his agency has limited resources for developing regulations and was unable to say when it would make the new rules.

“The Agency will continue to use its existing authority to ensure that veal calves and other livestock are humanely handled in connection with slaughter,” he said.

The FSIS denied a 2010 petition by Farm Sanctuary to require euthanasia of any pigs, sheep, goats, or other livestock that became nonambulatory at a slaughter facility, rather than allowing those that pass inspection to go to slaughter. The organization has said the change is needed to ensure humane handling and prevent slaughter of diseased animals.

In a letter sent March 13, the FSIS stated that existing regulations were sufficient. Cattle become nonambulatory for reasons different than other livestock do, particularly because producers have had incentives to keep dairy cattle until they are exceptionally old or weak.

“This practice allowed producers to extract as much milk as possible in the hope that the cattle would pass ante-mortem inspection before going down,” increasing the chances they would be subjected to inhumane conditions, Almanza’s letter to Farm Sanctuary states.

His letter also states that slaughter establishments have an incentive to send weakened veal calves to slaughter. Evidence provided by the HSUS indicates practices such as deprivation of colostrum and solid feed increases the chances that veal calves will become debilitated to the point where the handling to bring them to slaughter would be inhumane.

The response to Farm Sanctuary notes that the FSIS’ antemortem and postmortem inspections of nonambulatory livestock prevent diseased animals from entering the human food supply.