Our Place to Paws just received this letter and wanted to share it with our readers. On a personal note -- I'm a vegetarian, and the one thing I ask of friends who are not vegetarians is that they consider not eating veal or lamb.
Dear Sir or Madam:
Thank you for your correspondence to the Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding the handling of veal calves at a Vermont facility. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has been asked to provide a response to you. We appreciate the opportunity to address your concerns.
As you know, USDA launched an immediate investigation upon learning of an undercover video produced by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) that depicted animal abuse at Bushway Packing, Inc., of Grand Isle, Vermont. The deplorable scenes recorded in the video released by HSUS are unequivocally unacceptable. USDA’s FSIS is continuing its investigation into alleged violations depicted in the video.
In addition to its ongoing investigation, FSIS immediately suspended inspection at the plant, effectively shutting it down. USDA fully supports the investigation of all those involved in these alleged violations of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA), which requires that all livestock at federally inspected establishments be handled and slaughtered in a humane way. To this end, the Secretary has also called on USDA’s Inspector General to conduct a criminal investigation of the events in the video.
FSIS has a rigorous program to train inspection program personnel in verifying humane handling and slaughter at establishments. When an FSIS employee observes behaviors that are not in compliance with the HMSA, they are obligated to take immediate action. FSIS takes its obligation to enforce this law very seriously, and our inspection program personnel are authorized and expected to stop production if they witness egregious violations of the regulations. Our goal is to prevent the needless suffering of animals while protecting the safety of the food supply.
Congress provided additional funds in Fiscal Year 2009 for humane handling enforcement. FSIS has created additional positions to further boost its humane handling verification inspection activities. FSIS already has strategically placed most of these additional in-plant personnel at locations where they can enhance humane handling enforcement. The Agency has also established a headquarters-based humane handling coordinator position. This new position has primary responsibility for providing consistent oversight of field level humane handling activities, particularly those of the District Veterinary Medical Specialists.
Under the final rule that FSIS published in March 2009, all non-ambulatory disabled cattle that are offered for slaughter, including non-ambulatory veal calves, must be condemned and disposed of in accordance with Title 9 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), section 309.13. However, we should point out that 9 CFR 309.13(b) does provide that veal calves that are unable to rise from a recumbent position and walk because they are tired or cold may be set apart and held for treatment, but only under appropriate FSIS supervision.
USDA regulates the treatment of livestock under the authority of the HMSA. The HMSA protects animals when they are presented for slaughter at federally inspected establishments. For animals within FSIS’ jurisdiction, the Agency does not hesitate to take enforcement action against those establishments that fail to meet humane handling requirements. However, implementing policies for the humane handling of animals requires the combined efforts of Federal, State, and local authorities, as well as those of private industry.
Regarding the transportation of calves, please be aware that FSIS jurisdiction and food safety responsibilities begin when the animal reaches the slaughter establishments, not at the farm. State laws generally govern the treatment of farm animals.
Further information about FSIS’ regulation of humane methods of livestock slaughter can be found at the following Web site: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/regulations_&_policies/Humane_Methods_of_Slaughter/index.asp.
Thank you again for your message. We hope this information is helpful to you.
Kenneth E. Petersen, D.V.M., M.P.H.
Office of Field Operations