Some of the most disgusting images of modern agriculture being presented to the American public are those of old cull cows being inhumanely treated and mishandled by workers in the slaughter house pens. The Humane Society of the United States, PETA and other organizations that want us to stop slaughtering animals for human consumption keep the videos and headlines coming, and we are making their task just too easy. Many of these cull cows are spent dairy cows as was the case at Westland/Hallmark and most recently at Central Valley Meat Co. The cow may be well over 10 years of age, 10 years that were spent basically eating and being milked without much physical conditioning present and now she is becoming lame, or producing less milk, or showing signs of deterioration of her health in some other fashion. When an older cow has reached this point in her life, her owner may have her transported to a sale barn to be auctioned off. Following that she is reloaded onto another truck and transported to a slaughter plant and placed in a holding pen until the FSIS public health veterinarian can observe her in motion and at rest. And then she must be able to walk to the knock box on her own legs and of her own free will. But she just may not be able and willing after all of this commotion. The transporting may take place during inclement weather and cover hundreds of miles, and all this time the cow goes without being milked if still lactating. No wonder some of them just lie down and refuse to get back up—they are weakened from their journey, they are old and tired, and they may be just plain miserable. One might think that it is only logical to not send a lactating cow to market, but the cost of grain to feed a cow while going dry and administering antibiotics in the udder to prevent mastitis present a quandary of how best to handle the situation from an economic standpoint. It used to be, after the first case of Mad Cow was found in Washington State and the Interim Final Rule was written to protect us from consuming the BSE prions, that if a cow had been observed in motion and at rest and passed by the vet and then refused to get up, the vet could return to the pen to examine her. If a valid cause, such as a fractured leg or ruptured tendon, was found for becoming what is known as a “downer cow”, she could be humanely euthanized on the spot, labeled U.S. Suspect, and then taken to the facility for further fabrication and examination. That rule changed after Westland/Hallmark when Secretary Vilsack declared all downer cows banned from the food supply. In some cases perfectly good meat now is going to waste, which adds to the conundrum of what to do with cull cows. These are high risk cows for becoming downers, but they are still a commodity with a price tag. And they present the anti-meat groups with plenty of ammunition to try and portray an industry as being cruel and inhumane. I suggest to the readers that it just might be cruel and inhumane to send a cow that is still lactating to the auction block and all that that entails. It might also be cruel and inhumane to send a very old but dry cow on her final journey to the slaughter house if she is too weak and feeble to make the trip. And it certainly is a very bad public relations move to do any of the above, enabling damning undercover footage to be filmed. I believe the dairy industry must do a better job of evaluating which cows to send to slaughter and which ones to euthanize and send to rendering. The industry could help its image by consistently following the 10 best practices for culling and transporting dairy cows to packing facilities as written by the National Milk Producers Federation after the Westland/Hallmark incident. It would not only be the humane thing to do, it would be the politically correct thing to do. But this is not just about the dairy industry. Once the cow leaves the dairy farm, someone else is responsible for feeding and watering that animal. They need to be held accountable as well. The bottom line is pretty simple. If a cull cow is too weak to walk, there is no way to make her get up and go. Just like there is no way to make the public forget those awful videos we have watched of people trying to do just that—make the cows get up and go against all odds.

  • Bonnie Christensen

    There needs to be transparency or there will be abuses. Why do some wait so long to transport a cow anyway? Historically businesses have not been able to reliably audit themselves and the pattern in recent years is that the food industry leaders feel that they know what consumers want more than consumers do and that the industry should be able to tell consumers what they can eat. I think of Temple Grandin. I think of pink slime…

    Industry does not tend to want to self monitor and change, there needs to be pressure from consumers. Consumers kept in the dark allow the industry to do what it wants, when and how. This is not good for consumers. Whereas there have been abuses on both sides at least there is a conversation on both sides. Eliminating the journalistic investigative piece is dangerous and unamerican. This country was founded on the right to representation based on knowledge. This country has provided free education since it’s inception so that Americans can read newspapers, for example and thus inform themselves in order to make educated choices for themselves. That this isn’t good for the industry is too bad. Unfortunately “industry” tends to make choices based on the bottom line, what is good for the industry is not necessarily what is good for the consumer. There is a relationship between supply and demand and if you eliminate the ability to provide over-site then that relationship becomes skewed. Perhaps “industry” needs to do a better job of educating the public and promoting their American products. Cheap is not always better. Industry needs to rise above the bottom line and consumers need to wake up and see that you get what you pay for. Food is critical to life itself and the quality of the “food” (and I am referring to nourishment not simply edible products) is critical to our health and quality of life. We should all be paying closer attention to it and paying for what it costs.

  • Russell La Claire

    Well thought out article. There are a lot of idea, many of them bad, Ag Gag for instance. This is a much more reasoned approach. Thanks for posting.

  • Susan McKenzie

    A quick reading of their website confirms that it is not a stated policy of the Humane Society to “stop slaughtering animals for human consumption”. Tossing around exaggerations/untruths reduces the credibility of the remainder of your comments.

  • You have an error in the following statement, “The Humane Society of the United States, PETA and other organizations that want us to stop slaughtering animals for human consumption…”

    As you should know, HSUS isn’t attempt to stop slaughtering of animals for human consumption. If it were, I doubt it would be such good friends with farmers who raise animals for this purpose. HSUS is against inhumane conditions in livestock management. Since these invariably are also tied to food safety issues, I would assume anyone interested in safer food would be the same.

    Other than that, haven’t a clue the point you’re trying to make other than “You see this thing you do with old cows? Don’t do it.”

  • ChurnYourOwn

    This is exactly the reason I no longer buy supermarket dairy or meat products. I vote with my dollars for milk and meat that come from pasture-raised animals. I love that I have a personal relationship with the farmer who produces this wonderful foods for my family’s consumption. I think that if you don’t have visibility into where your food comes from and the conditions under which the animals are raised, slaughtered, etc., then you should think twice about buying it. Unfortunately it seems that many people nowadays no longer care so much about this. They’re much more likely to want to tour a winery or their favorite whiskey producer, but somehow a tour of, say, a dairy farm is just not popular.