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.

  • It is our belief that humane euthanasia in appropriate situations is necessary and advisable, but anyone who is driven to actions or policies by HSUS, which is in my opinion no more than a well financed group of hucksters, will eventually get what they deserve for having responded to that organization’s intimidation.

  • dangermaus

    Isn’t this just another disingenuous attempt by a national animal rights group trying to leverage “food safety” into their continuous attack on the production of a product they don’t like (veal)? How is the suffering (or lack thereof) that an animal experiences a food safety issue?

  • minkpuppy

    Let’s not forget that the HSUS petition also interferes with regulations regarding ante-mortem inspection. The plants are required to segregate animals showing signs of illness for inspection by the FSIS veterinarian who then makes the final determination if the animal is fit for slaughter or not. The slaughter vets are also vital in detecting disease outbreaks such as foot-and-mouth and determining which animals should be tested for BSE.
    If the animal is euthanized before the vet looks at it, disease symptoms could be missed that may point to a larger, more widespread outbreak of a deadly livestock disease. Are we now going to expect the vets to do autopsies in the yards before the plants dispose of the euthanized carcasses?
    An animal that simply needs rest or warming is not a threat to the food supply. If they fail to become ambulatory, then they should be segregated for veterinary inspection. If this is not happening in certain plants, that needs to be dealt with under the framework of the current regulations which are sufficient when properly enforced.

  • Carrie

    If you dig HSUS & Farm Sanctuary, check out the Vegan/Omnivore Alliance Against Animal Factory Farming or @VOAAF… (not kidding, we are real) on Twitter & Facebook. Looking for more support to spread awareness about CAFOs. No Shmeat has a great blog too. We need more & bigger voices for a diverse group of people seeking to reform & or phase out animal factory farming because regardless of whether you eat meat or not, it stinks!

  • Chad Westbrook

    Most people would know that the longer a cow is down on the ground the worse it will get and has nothing to do with illness.
    The need to get on their feet and monitored and assessed. HSUS is the most anti capitolist group I have every seen. How many BILLIONS of dollars have they taken out of the economy and still grabbing?
    They really need to be investigated – period.

  • ICBM

    I don’t get these comments — of course this has everything to do with food safety — not to mention food quality. And why would ANYBODY want to eat meat from downer animals? This is the industrial food interests at work maximizing their profits. No wonder agribusiness is pushing laws forbidding the photography of industrial operations — the truth is plainly not good for business as usual.
    A lot of the downers tend to be confinement dairy cows on their last legs, literally. Their adult lives are spent inside on concrete and milked 3x a day they have particularly short life span — and when their milk production falls off their meat is the final pay-off — ground into burger and co-mingled with hundreds of others…. no wonder lifestyle disease rates are so high these days — you can’t get around it — we are what we eat.

  • dangermaus

    You can get around it – get a grinder attachment for your mixer and don’t buy chuck steak. It’s about the same price, is really, really easy to do, is less likely to contain food-borne pathogens, and is tastes dramatically better.
    The biggest problem with our diets is that our addict-like affinity for sweets, salts and fats has led us to the unforgivably lazy food culture/paradigm we have today. Too many people want to expect food to completely free of perceived risk, which, in addition to being impossible, is driving Americans to eat processed foods as a greater and greater portion of their diet. The result of that is the epidemics of obesity, diabetes, food allergies, heart disease, etc that have come up in the last decades.

  • dangermaus

    Sorry, my first sentence is typed wrong… I meant to say “buy chuck steak and grind it, don’t buy hamburger”