The Humane Society of the United States today released the results of an undercover investigation documenting shocking animal abuse at a Vermont slaughter plant.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture took decisive action today based on the information provided by the HSUS and immediately suspended operations at the plant, pending a continuing investigation.

The HSUS is cooperating with agencies and provided undercover footage and some preliminary findings to them earlier this week.

Videotape from the investigation reveals that dairy calves only a few days old—many with their umbilical cords still hanging from their bodies—were unable to stand or walk on their own. The tape shows that the animals were kicked, slapped and repeatedly shocked with electric prods and subjected to other mistreatment.

After reviewing the undercover footage obtained by the HSUS investigator in August and September 2009, animal scientists Dr. Temple Grandin and Kurt Vogel pronounced that, "the handling practices and attention to insensibility at this plant are unacceptable and must improve."

The investigation of Bushway Packing, Inc. of Grand Isle, Vt., was conducted nearly two years after the HSUS revealed to an appalled nation the routine abuse of downed cows at a California slaughter plant which supplied the National School Lunch Program. That investigation prompted the largest meat recall in U.S. history and led to a new federal regulation that banned the slaughter of downer cattle, but it retained an exemption for downer calves.

Vermont dairy calf slaughter investigation

"We are grateful to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Vermont Agriculture Secretary Roger Allbee for taking decisive action to address the problems at this slaughter plant, and for taking animal welfare concerns so seriously," said Michael Markarian, the HSUS chief operating officer.

"All animals deserve humane treatment, including animals raised for food and this type of abuse has got to stop."

In this latest stomach-wrenching look inside America's meat industry, the HSUS undercover investigator focused on the handling and slaughter of infant veal calves, including those too weak to stand or injured and unable to rise.

These suffering animals were routinely subjected to cruel treatment, including excessive electric shocking, in attempts to make them stand so they could be slaughtered.

Other abuses uncovered

  • Failure to ensure that stunned calves had been rendered insensible to pain. Undercover video shows movements and breathing that is not characteristic of post-mortem reflexes. In one case, a shackled calf whose head had been half-way removed vocalized at a point when he should have been unconscious, leading experts Grandin and Vogel to assert that he was "definitely sensible."
  • In one scene, the co-owner of the plant shocks and then heaves a downed calf to his feet saying, "There's nothing wrong with you, Shitbox." The infant animal, covered in his own diarrhea, staggers and falls hard into the side of the trailer. The HSUS investigator videotaped calves crowded together and stunned as a group, rather than restrained individually so the stun gun could be accurately placed. 
  • Workers, including the plant's co-owner, are seen in the video repeatedly shocking calves who seem weak and unable to stand, even going so far as to throw water on a calf to intensify the electric current. In some instances, a calf was shocked more than 30 times, in addition to being kicked, slapped and then lifted and dropped.
  • In one scene, a worker has to move away from a calf who kicks after having one of his feet cut off.

Grandin and Vogel assert that "electric prods were commonly used in an abusive manner to force nonambulatory calves to rise. This is unacceptable and should not continue. It is unacceptable to allow workers to kick calves to make them rise as was observed [...] This is a definite act of abuse."

Some of the calves had died or fallen down on the trip to the slaughter facility. Grandin and Vogel also stated that calves unable to stand and walk on their own should be euthanized.


  • 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 they are slaughtered for "bob veal" within a week of being born. 
  • Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine and Michigan have passed laws phasing out the use of restrictive veal crate confinement systems, but still allow transport and slaughter of calves at any age. 
  • The agriculture industry trade publication Feedstuffs editorialized in September about a series of investigations conducted by animal organizations: "It's important to understand that companies and producers can't just say 'bad apple' and move on because—to consumers who have seen these videos again and again—there are no bad apples anymore. The bad apple, to consumers now, is the industry." 
  • Approximate 700,000 veal calves are slaughtered in the US annually, approximately 15% of whom are bob veal calves.