Non-ambulatory disabled veal calves and other animals that cannot walk on their own on to the kill floor should be “humanely euthanized,” two animal welfare groups say.


A comment period just ended for petitions filed last year with USDA’s Food Safety and inspection Service by two organizations — Farm Sanctuary and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

Those involved in animal agriculture, including the powerful American Meat Industry, oppose changes to how so-called “downer” animals are handled at slaughterhouses.  

FSIS, which regulates the nation’s meat industry, is reviewing a petition from HSUS seeking repeal of a provision in the anti-mortem inspection regulation that permits veal calves unable to rise from a recumbent position and walk because they are too tired or cold to be set apart and held for treatment.

Current policy permits those calves to proceed to slaughter when they are able to rise and walk after being warmed or rested.  HSUS instead wants a non-ambulatory, disabled veal calf to be “condemned and promptly and humanly euthanized.”

The other petition being reviewed by FSIS is from Farm Sanctuary, which wants the federal meat inspection regulations amended to prohibit the slaughter of non-ambulatory, disabled pigs, sheep, goats, and “other amenable livestock.”

While the requests for the changes are made mostly on what the petitioner’s claims are humanitarian grounds, they do point to the potential “downer” cows have for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) and other diseases.

“Though the USDA is responsible for implementing regulations to ensure the human treatment of livestock animals, human health is also a critical concern,” the Farm Sanctuary petition says.  “Threats to human safety should serve as an additional incentive for FSIS to act.”

In a 10-page letter dropped into the record just before the comment period closed, AMI said granting the petitions “would result in unnecessary waste with no identifiable benefit.”  

“The petitions raise a broader concern about simply condemning pigs and calves that cannot walk when they arrive at the plant,” the AMI letter says. “If a non-ambulatory pig or veal calf could become ambulatory with rest or warming, if they can be handled in a way to minimize discomfort, if economic incentives exist to promote good care, and if the animals can pass anti-mortem inspection, is it really appropriate, ethically, morally, and otherwise, to turn livestock that have the potential to nourish people into little more than a waste disposal problem?

“In destroying these livestock, a farmer’s livelihood is also harmed dramatically. The only beneficiaries under this scenario are the petitioners, who will be able to claim ‘victory’ to their constituents, a collection of persons whose underlying purpose is to oppose animal agriculture and meat consumption,” AMI added.

FSIS has indicated it wants to condemn any animal that cannot walk when it arrives at a federally inspected plant. Once it is apparent livestock cannot walk, the petitioners claim there is an economic incentive to abuse the animals to force them onto their feet.   AMI claims economic incentives go the other way.

An undercover HSUS video taken in 2008 at the Westland/Hallmark Meat Packing Co. focused on abuse of “downer cows.”  At the time, the plant was one of the largest beef suppliers to USDA’s National School Lunch Program.

HSUS is the nation’s largest animal advocacy organization with 11 million members.   The 25-year old Farm Sanctuary has 200,000 members and operates animal rescue shelters in New York and California.

AMI is a national trade organization representing companies that make up about 95 percent of the U.S. red meat industry.