This week the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) stepped up and suspended operations at a calf slaughterhouse in New Jersey following an undercover investigation conducted by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) that exposed cruelty to veal calves.
The HSUS obtained footage that showed inexcusable abuses of calves, including downers (i.e., those who are injured, or too weak or sick to stand on their own), at the Catelli Brothers slaughterhouse in Shrewsbury, N.J., which performs both kosher and conventional slaughter of veal calves.
Still-conscious calves were seen struggling after being hung upside down on a conveyor belt when they should have been unconscious; others were shot multiple times before being rendered unconscious; still others were dragged, hit, shocked and sprayed with water. According to the HSUS, plant managers were also seen twisting downed calves’ ears and tails when they were too exhausted or weak to stand, lifting some calves entirely by their tails, and telling employees never to do the same when USDA inspectors are watching.
Warning: Graphic Footage
Last week the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service initiated an investigation into the allegations of inhumane slaughter and handling of calves at the facility and found numerous violations of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which is supposed to prevent unnecessary suffering during slaughter. This week the USDA sent a letter to Catelli Brothers that broke down the violations and basically said it’s nice that they have guidelines in place to avoid this sort of thing, but it’s too bad they weren’t followed. The slaughterhouse has been suspended until it can prove it has taken corrective actions.
The suspension is being applauded, but the HSUS is urging the agency to take further action to protect downer calves. In 2009, a ban on slaughtering downer cows was put into place only months after the HSUS brought to light disturbing evidence of their use for consumption, which resulted in the largest beef recall in U.S. history.
That same year, the HSUS petitioned the USDA to close a loophole that allows slaughter plants to keep downer calves alive and drag them to their deaths following its investigation at the Bushway slaughterplant in Vermont. This past March the USDA announced it would be granting the petition, but has yet to finalize the rule.
“Downed calves are still suffering the sort of appalling abuses that we exposed in 2009 at another calf slaughter plant in Vermont,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO for the HSUS, in a press release. “We commend USDA for taking action to shut down the operation at Catelli Brothers, but it’s long past time to close the loophole in the downed animal rule that perpetuates continuing cruelty to young calves.”
Fortunately, New Jersey has no ag gag laws in place to criminalize whistleblowers who continue to expose this type of abuse and educate the public about ongoing problems with our food system. These investigations aren’t exposing isolated incidents, but a culture of callous indifference towards the lives of sentient animals who are merely considered commodities by agribusinesses. So far this year ag gag bills have been introduced in Indiana and New Hampshire, but New Hampshire’s bill has been tabled.
It’s probably important to note that while many people won’t touch veal because of the cruelty involved, veal calves are direct byproducts of the dairy industry. While females will likely follow in their mother’s footsteps as dairy cows, the calves who have the misfortune of being born male will be sold for beef or veal. The easiest way for us to stop the cycle of suffering is to pass on both meat and dairy products.
Photo credit: Marji Beach/Animal Place via Flickr