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USDA Proposes New Protections for Downer Veal Calves

In response to a legal petition filed by The Humane Society of the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has tentatively approved new rules to protect downed veal calves – those unable even to stand – from slaughter abuse. The new rules, if finalized, would close the regulatory loophole allowing the slaughter of young calves who are too sick or injured to walk, instead requiring that they be promptly and humanely euthanized.

“The Humane Society of the United States commends U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for taking a serious look at the enforcement of humane handling and slaughter rules, including  the loophole that allows sick and injured calves to be dragged and abused,” stated Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. “This proposed action, along with a number of other reforms recently announced by the agency, will improve animal welfare and strengthen the safety of our nation’s food supply.”

The HSUS’ petition was filed in the wake of its 2009 exposé of Bushway Packing, Inc. in Grand Isle, Vt., where investigators documented unacceptable and callous cruelty to infant calves, some just days old with their umbilical cords still attached, including repeated electric shocks, kicking, and even cutting off a hoof and partial decapitation of conscious animals. The HSUS investigation prompted state and federal officials to shut down the slaughter plant and open an investigation that resulted in a felony aggravated animal cruelty conviction. More than 50,000 citizens wrote to the Secretary immediately following news on the Bushway case, urging his help closing the downer calf loophole and making other needed reforms, including establishing an ombudsman’s office to take whistleblower complaints. The agency announced in December 2010 that an ombudsman will be appointed to focus on humane handling concerns.

In a Federal Register Notice issued today, the USDA tentatively granted HSUS’s petition, and announced that it will solicit comments before implementing new rules for veal calves. The agency also has issued new guidance to slaughterhouse personnel making clear that adult downer cattle must not only be removed from the human food supply, but also be promptly and humanely euthanized.

The agency will be accepting comments until April 8, 2011.


  • In 2009, President Barack Obama and the USDA banned the slaughter of all adult downer cattle, requiring that they be humanely euthanized rather than dragged to slaughter.
  • When dairy cows give birth to male calves, the calves are often sold to veal factory farms where they are unable to turn around or stretch their limbs, or instead they are slaughtered for "bob veal" within about a week of being born.
  • About 700,000 veal calves are slaughtered in the United States annually.
  • Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine and Michigan have passed laws phasing out the extreme confinement of calves in veal crates but still allow transport and slaughter of calves at any age.


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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation’s largest animal protection organization—backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty—on the web at humanesociety.org.