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February 1, 2010

Three Months after Bushway

Plant remains closed, but still no charges

The Humane Society of the United States

Update: In early June, 2010, the Vermont Attorney General charged two Bushway plant operators with felony and misdemeanor animal cruelty charges. Read more.


 

The images are hard to forget: Day-old calves being kicked, beaten, and electrically shocked as they struggle in vain to stand; workers angrily cursing as the tormented animals collapse to the ground.

A legacy of abuse

They may sound like the stuff of nightmares, but at the Bushway Packing slaughter plant in Vermont, these images were part and parcel of daily business—until the November 2009 release of HSUS' undercover footage from the facility. Running on nightly news programs across the country, the video exposed some of the day-to-day cruelty of the meat industry to the American public.

In a remarkably decisive response reminiscent of the government's reaction to The HSUS' 2008 exposé  of abuses at a California slaughterhouse, The USDA and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture ordered Bushway to immediately cease operations.

Today, three months later, the doors to the Bushway facility are locked and the windows are shuttered. The pens that once held tiny, bawling calves are empty. But the Bushway story is far from over. As the state weighs animal cruelty charges against Bushway and the federal government considers legal sanctions as well, animal protection advocates are keeping the Bushway story front and center on their radar screens.

Condemnation from industry insiders

But it's not just animal advocates who are horrified by the images shot at Bushway. Government and meat industry representatives have roundly condemned the practices depicted on tape, calling for those responsible to be held accountable.

"The deplorable scenes recorded in the video released by the Humane Society of the United States are unequivocally unacceptable. The callous behavior and attitudes displayed in the video appear to be clear violations of USDA's humane handling regulations." 
— USDA Secretary Tom Vilsak

"The treatment of calves depicted in the videos taken at Bushway's Packing Plant in Vermont are unacceptable." 
— American Veal Association Statement President Chip-Line Burgess

"The agency finds the alleged animal welfare practices disturbing and states there is no excuse for the inhumane treatment of animals. These practices are not representative of the industry as a whole in Vermont and such actions will not be tolerated in our state." 
— Vermont  Agriculture Secretary Roger Albee

"In addition to violating the USDA's Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the actions documented on tape are…in obvious violation of the American Veterinary Medical Association's (AVMA) Policy on Humane Slaughter of Livestock, which states that physical abuse of animals must not be tolerated under any circumstances." 
— Vermont Veterinary Medical Association

Still awaiting action

Yet despite the strong consensus against Bushway, the Vermont Attorney General's Office has failed to take criminal action in the three months after plant's closure.

Hopes are high that public pressure, coupled with pressure from within the meat industry itself, will help propel a Vermont cruelty prosecution and send a clear message that animal cruelty, in any industry, is unacceptable. 

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