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November 02, 2009

Caught on Tape: Cruelty to Calves a Wake-Up Call

My colleague Michael Markarian and I participated in a press conference today to provide more details about our undercover investigation of Bushway Packing, Inc., a plant in Grand Isle, Vt. that specialized in slaughtering days-old calves discarded by the dairy industry for “bob veal.”

Based on the result of the video we sent state and federal authorities last week, the plant was shut down on Friday—and we released some preliminary footage to the public on that day. Today, we released additional video revealing a USDA inspector at the plant apparently allowing violations of federal law to occur, including the skinning of a live calf. Based on his recorded comments, he appeared to know the conduct he was witnessing was illegal, yet he took no remedial action and warned that punitive action would have been taken if a more scrupulous inspector had been present.

HSUS undercover investigation documents shocking abuse of veal calves
The HSUS

We also captured on video the co-owner of the plant repeatedly and maliciously shocking a baby calf with a hot shot (an electric prod), and otherwise inhumanely handling him. This is the same man who told the Burlington Free Press on Friday that he was not aware of any mistreatment of animals at the plant. Well, sir, not only was there mistreatment, but you were one of the main players.

Today, The HSUS also submitted a 66-page legal petition to the USDA to ask the agency to close the loophole that allows the slaughtering of downer veal calves for human consumption. We’ll follow up on that with a separate request to stop the transport of baby calves younger than 10 days old. As our investigation demonstrated, these baby animals are too weak and poorly nourished to withstand the rigors of long-distance transport and handling at slaughter plants.

And finally, we’ll be talking to USDA to do better when it comes to its humane handling and slaughter enforcement efforts. Through the years, this agency has been plagued by a cozy relationship with agribusiness and lax enforcement of the very modest humane handling and slaughter laws that exist. While there are many dedicated inspectors committed to upholding humane standards, this latest case again underscores why the agency must do better.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s statement expressing frustration and outrage about the abuses that occurred at Bushway gives us hope that there will be meaningful internal reforms at the agency, along with new policies for the nation. They are long overdue.

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