US Shakes a Weary Head at More Cow Abuse

US - This week animal welfare group, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), revealed further mistreatment of sick and injured cattle in its ongoing probe into the cruelty of factory farming practices. The recent insight into injured animals at a cattle market being abused by industry middlemen has caught the attention of the whole industry.
calendar icon 8 May 2008
clock icon 5 minute read

Photo: Humane Society of the United States

According to the HSUS, the shocking abuse of "downer" cows occurs not just at slaughter plants, but may be an everyday happening at livestock auctions and stockyards around the country - the midpoints between farm and slaughter - as shown in an expanding undercover investigation by The Humane Society of the United States.

"Downer" cows are those too frail to stand on their own - dragged and prodded with inhumane handling methods, and increasing the threat of carrying and passing disease.

During April and May, HSUS investigators visited auctions in Maryland, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Texas and videotaped downer cows at each stop - animals left to suffer for hours and in one instance overnight. Executives of The HSUS brought preliminary evidence of the abuse to the attention of U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer last week at a face-to-face meeting, and Secretary Schafer has promised to examine the issue. The HSUS looks forward to working with USDA to address the problem.

"This has to stop immediately," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. "Our earlier investigation into the callous and abusive treatment of live animals at a slaughter plant in California appalled the nation and led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history. These new video images show that the rot in the factory farming system of raising animals goes much deeper. The problems are systemic, the laws and regulations are inadequate, and the industry's resolve insufficient."

The HSUS urged Secretary Schafer to expedite regulations that would require more humane treatment of animals destined for the food supply, at every step from producer to slaughter. The HSUS particularly urges USDA to close the risky loophole that allows some downer cows to be slaughtered for consumption.

Ed Schafer recently replied to the call: "Late last week, the Humane Society of the United States notified me that they were in the early stages of an investigation into the mistreatment of farm animals transported to livestock auctions and stockyards. The dairy cattle shown in the video were non-ambulatory and were abandoned in parking lots of these auctions and yards. These animals were not in slaughter facilities. However, even though this is not a food safety issue, these actions of animal cruelty are not acceptable.

"USDA's authority to regulate the treatment of animals includes the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and the Animal Welfare Act. The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act protects animals when they are presented for slaughter at federally inspected establishments. The Animal Welfare Act allows us to ensure the proper care of live animals when used in biomedical research, testing, and exhibition. When animals fall within our authorities, USDA has acted to prevent animal cruelty such as this."

Policies for humane handling of animals, however, consist of a combined effort of federal, state, and local authorities, as well as private industry. Since learning about this investigation, the US have said that they are reaching out to states and industry groups to address this issue.

"In my conversation with the Humane Society last week, I expressed my sincere desire to work with them to resolve these atrocities, and I trust USDA was given all the information HSUS has on this issue so we can thoroughly address it. It is essential that we work together in good faith to address these issues, and ensure that animals are treated with care and dignity."

The HSUS say that until the loophole is closed, producers and middlemen in the supply chain have a financial incentive to push sick and injured animals to the brink - and in many cases to torture them beyond the brink - in attempts to turn them into profitable beef. Until the federal government steps in to assume firm jurisdiction, the food supply will be subject to the patchwork vagaries of local and state regulation, which can mean no oversight at all.

The National Beef Association also issued a statement over the incidence. They said that they are committed to working with every segment of the food production chain to ensure all livestock are treated humanely.

"We strongly support strict compliance with and enforcement of all state and federal animal welfare laws. Appropriate cattle care includes close supervision of cattle health and wellbeing. We believe it’s important to promptly attend to animals that appear non-ambulatory", the statement read.

"To date, in cooperation with the nation’s livestock markets, we have distributed more than 2,000 cattle care and handling training videos to the nation’s 1,250 livestock markets and other cattle sales locations, as well as veterinarians who work with these operations. Additionally, we are in the process of conducting hands-on staff training sessions at livestock markets led by cattle handling experts.

Beef producers and livestock market owners understand that animal care and raising cattle go hand-in-hand. We know that giving animals the proper care and supervision they deserve is an obligation, not an option, and also is smart business."

The HSUS has plans for more investigations for the future. Details of the new undercover HSUS investigation include:

  • At the Livestock Exchange (LSX) in Hereford, Texas, HSUS investigators videotaped two downed cows left in the parking lot for four hours. Neither cow could lift her head. They were still alive in the parking lot at closing time. HSUS had received a complaint from a passing motorist about live, downed cows at LSX hanging from their legs by chains attached to a front-end loader.

  • At the Westminster auction in Maryland, HSUS investigators documented a downed cow abandoned outside of the auction barn, left to suffer through the night. HSUS investigators contacted agents with the Carroll County Humane Society. An officer expertly ended the cow's suffering.

  • At the Clovis Livestock Auction in New Mexico, two downed cows were filmed over a period of five hours. One was suffering from obvious pain, flailing her legs as she expelled watery feces into the pen where other cows were held for auction.
  • At the Greencastle Livestock Auction in Pennsylvania, HSUS investigators documented a calf only days old who was unable to stand and left to die.

  • In 2002, Congress directed the USDA to investigate the question of downed animals at livestock auctions and markets - including the scope of problems, the causes, and the resulting cruel treatment of animals. Further, Congress ordered the USDA to follow up with "regulations to provide for the humane treatment, handling, and disposition of nonambulatory livestock by stockyards, market agencies, and dealers."

TheCattleSite News Desk

© 2000 - 2024 - Global Ag Media. All Rights Reserved | No part of this site may be reproduced without permission.