By Chris O'Brien
The Humane Society of the United States recently released another video in its ongoing exposé of downer cattle abuse. The footage was captured at a livestock auction in New Mexico in May and shows cows too sick to walk being kicked, given electric shocks and even being dragged by a tractor to slaughter.
"One of our undercover investigators gained employment at a New Mexico auction, and what he taped while there was further evidence of egregious abuse of these dairy cows," said Paul Shapiro, head of the anti-factory farming campaign at HSUS. "The abuse is still occurring and the USDA needs to prohibit the slaughter of downer cows and require mandatory, humane euthanasia of any downed cows whether at the plant or at a livestock auction."
In February, the HSUS filed a lawsuit against the USDA to close a loophole in the law that until now has allowed downer cattle to be brought to slaughter and into the food supply. The loophole essentially allowed very sick cows that could "walk on their own strength" to slaughter to be accepted, and the HSUS claimed that many techniques used to achieve this were inhumane. In addition to protesting animal abuse, HSUS contended that downer cattle are at a higher risk of carrying and transmitting diseases, including bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease.
The HSUS dismissed the lawsuit after productive conversations with Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer.
"We dismissed our downer lawsuit on March 14, because we felt we had good dialogue with USDA on the issue and could reach a solution that way," said Michael Markarian, executive vice president at HSUS. "Subsequently, Secretary Schafer announced they would close the loophole in the regulation and restore the bright-line ban on processing any downed cattle for food. Now, we are urging the agency to implement that rule immediately, without delay."
While the loophole has been closed, and downer cattle are not permitted for slaughter, enforcement of the law is another issue. USDA inspectors need to be present, and currently the maximum consequence for violations is temporary plant closure.
Still pending is legislation proposed earlier this year by senators Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., that would provide civil penalties for violations of the humane handling requirements.
"Given the recent cases of appalling cattle abuse, there is no reason to be complacent," said Markarian. "We are urging the agency to make sure that inspectors are present at all places where animals are off-loaded from trucks and held in pens, not just on the slaughter lines. We also hope the agency will conduct its own undercover investigations and explore other methods such as installing video cameras at slaughter plants to deter any abuses from occurring."