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Brutality That Threatens Our Food Supply

Brutality That Threatens Our Food Supply

Humane Society’s undercover investigation reveals revolting abuse all for profits

By Jessica Culpepper, Food Safety & Health Attorney

Today the Humane Society of the United States revealed horrific abuse to calves and an active threat to our food supply in its undercover investigation at Catelli Brothers calf slaughter plant in Shrewsbury, N.J.. The HSUS investigation revealed calves too injured or sick to stand up by themselves (also known as “downed”) being dragged by chains around their necks, shocked, beaten, and sprayed with water, and lifted by their tails to force them to walk to their slaughter and into our food supply. The Catelli Brothers website claims that “Since 1936, the Catelli family has set industry standards in quality, service, dependability, and safety.” If this is the industry standard, we are in trouble.

Let me tell you a little something about the veal industry. These baby calves, which are male dairy calves, are taken from their mother within hours of birth. The maternal deprivation isn’t just cruel, it causes impaired immune function due to lack of colostrum, leaving the calves far more vulnerable to disease. The majority of them live out their lives confined in tiny crates with no bedding, tied to the front of the stall to restrict movement and not allowed to perform their natural behaviors. These systems further leave the calves stressed and exposed to disease and lead to downed animals. While this system could be slowly changing to a group-house setting, crating is still the norm in the industry.  

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Services currently bans the practice of slaughtering non-ambulatory disabled, or “downed” cattle and placing them into the food chain. Why? Because injured and sick animals carry disease that can be spread to people if the animals are then consumed. The meat from downed cows have a higher likelihood of carrying bovine spongiform encephalopathy, a.k.a. Mad Cow Disease, and E.coli infection.

FSIS’s regulations require downed cattle to be humanely euthanized instead, thus preventing the types of abuse that occur in getting the animals in for slaughter as well as the spread of disease.  

A couple years ago, while an attorney with the Humane Society, I helped draft some comments on a Farm Sanctuary petition to FSIS to expand downed-cow regulations to other types of livestock – the comments I worked on specifically covered pigs. It was on the heels of The Humane Society of the United States’ petition to expand downed-cow regulations to cover downed veal calves. The fact research for those comments were some of the most heart-breaking and concerning of my career – I used to have to take hourly walks during research just to stay calm. The abuse and threat to food safety was egregious and readily apparent.

FSIS granted the Humane Society’s Petition for veal calves and denied the petition to expand the regulations to other types of livestock. However, FSIS claimed limited resources as a reason that it could not even project a timeline to initiate rulemaking. Until then, downed veal calves continue to suffer from horrific abuses and threaten our food supply.

When California tried to go a step farther in protecting animals and our food supply, the industry sued the state saying it was preempted. When the case reached the Supreme Court, we were there to give our expertise on preemption. Unfortunately, that battle was lost, once again leaving animals and the food supply vulnerable.

Without meaningful inspections and promulgating the NAD regulations to include calves, these horror stories are going to continue to occur. It’s time for FSIS to get off its arm chair and protect these vulnerable animals from abuse and protect the nation’s food supply from the threat of disease from downed calves.

The USDA temporarily suspended slaughtering operations at the plant on Friday. It cannot reopen until it submits a plan to prevent these threats in the future.  This investigation and the results it garnered just reiterate Public Justice’s position that undercover investigations are essential to exposing the cruelty and food safety hazards common in industrial animal agriculture. That is why we are fighting to protect them.

Want to help? The Humane Society has an Action Alert that allows you to send a message to Alfred V. Almanza, Administrator of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Services. Follow the link to thank him for the agency’s swift action closing the slaughter plant and asking the USDA to set standards for downed calves. 

Want to do more? Stop eating industrially raised veal. And support us as we directly hold the corporations responsible for their outrageous actions in industrial animal agriculture. The government isn’t changing this industry – it’s up to all of us.