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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tell USDA: Stop Cruelty to Downer Calves

Last month, in response to a legal petition filed by The HSUS, the U.S. Department of Agriculture tentatively approved new rules to protect downed calves—those unable even to stand up on their own—from abuse. Under current federal law, slaughter plants have the option of setting aside calves who are too weak or injured to stand—so-called “downer” calves—and slaughtering them later. These infant calves, some just days old, can suffer extreme abuse including repeated electric shocks, kicking, and beating as workers try to drag the helpless animals to the kill box.

The new rules, if finalized, will remove the option of slaughtering calves who cannot stand and require that downed calves, like adult downed cows, be immediately and humanely euthanized. In 2009, an HSUS investigation of a Vermont slaughter plant revealed the horrifying abuse to infant calves, and removing the possibility of letting these calves linger indefinitely at slaughterhouses will help to prevent such cruelty.

Hslf_bilboard_downer_calf As part of the process, USDA is requesting comments from the public on whether to make this change permanent. Click here to urge the USDA to protect calves from abuse by permanently adopting these new rules. The agency needs to hear from all concerned Americans that the abuse of calves cannot be permitted to continue.

The HSUS’ petition was filed in the wake of its 2009 exposé of Bushway Packing, Inc. in Grand Isle, Vt., where investigators documented unacceptable and callous cruelty to infant calves, some just days old with their umbilical cords still attached, including repeated electric shocks, kicking, and even cutting off a hoof and partial decapitation of conscious animals. The HSUS investigation prompted state and federal officials to shut down the slaughter plant and open an investigation that resulted in a felony aggravated animal cruelty conviction.

More than 50,000 citizens wrote to the Secretary immediately following news of the Bushway case, urging the agency to close the downer calf loophole and make other needed reforms, including establishing an ombudsman’s office to take whistleblower complaints. The agency announced in December 2010 that an ombudsman will be appointed to focus on humane handling concerns.

USDA has made important progress under Secretary Vilsack’s leadership on stronger enforcement of humane handling and slaughter laws, puppy mill regulations, and other important issues. Eliminating the option of holding downer calves indefinitely will be another important step forward and will stop a tremendous amount of suffering for these young creatures. Please take a moment to tell the USDA to make these changes permanent. Your voice will go a long way in helping to end this unconscionable cruelty.


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