Closing a Loophole on Veal Calf Slaughter

On May 13 the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) proposed an amendment to its regulation requiring the immediate humane euthanasia of nonambulatory cattle. The original 2007 regulation contains a loophole: it allows veal calves who are unable to walk to be set aside temporarily to “rest” and then, if they can be forced to walk, they can be slaughtered for food.

In 2009, a rulemaking petition was submitted claiming the loophole is inconsistent with the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, because it creates an economic incentive for inhumane treatment. Two undercover investigations yielded footage of plant personnel dragging, kicking, and shocking calves with electric prods, forcing them to rise and thus be eligible for slaughter. FSIS enforcement records also show abuse, including allowing ambulatory calves to trample disabled ones, and dropping nonambulatory calves into pens. Furthermore, while these calves are “recovering,” they are often denied access to water and are subjected to conditions that only prolong their suffering.

The amendment would require prompt euthanasia of any nonambulatory calf on the grounds of a slaughter plant. It would also incentivize higher on-farm welfare for calves. Common practices for raising veal calves—such as malnutrition and intensive confinement—often lead to disability. Under the amendment, farmers would have an economic incentive to raise stronger, healthier calves who are less likely to become nonambulatory during transport or at slaughter.