Humane Society urges new U.S. rules for veal calves

WASHINGTON Mon Nov 2, 2009 5:46pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Agriculture Department should tighten regulations for the transport and slaughter of veal calves to ensure they are not treated cruelly, the Humane Society of the United States said on Monday.

The group petitioned the USDA to expand an existing regulation to ban the slaughter of veal calves that cannot stand on their own, and also said it wants the USDA to put a new ban on transportation of calves younger than 10 days.

Federal inspectors also need more training and should spend more time ensuring animals are treated humanely, the group said after releasing more video footage from an undercover investigation at a Vermont veal plant.

The Bushway Packing Inc plant in Grand Isle, Vermont, was shut down on Friday by federal and state officials because of the footage, which showed calves repeatedly shocked with electric prods and kicked to try to get them to stand up.

Veal calves, which produce beef prized for its tenderness, are typically slaughtered when they are about 500 pounds. But the Vermont plant specialized in "bob veal" from calves as young as a few days old.

The Humane Society alleges some animals at the Vermont plant were not adequately stunned before slaughter. It said their footage shows a plant owner participating in the abuse.

"We have him on tape wielding the (prod) with recklessness and repetition, and setting an example of cruelty and callousness for the rest of his employees," said Michael Markarian, the group's chief operating officer.

The group said their footage shows a USDA inspector turning a blind eye to the abuse.

"This is animal abuse of the most sickening kind and it should not be tolerated at any federally inspected slaughter plant," Markarian said.

Officials from the plant did not return calls on Monday.

The USDA said its Food Safety and Inspection Service took "immediate action with respect to its employee," but a spokesman declined further comment.

Government officials are now conducting their own investigation into the plant.

CLOSE "DOWNER" LOOPHOLE

The United States finalized a ban on downer cattle from the meat supply earlier this year after a 2008 Humane Society investigation showing workers at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing plant in California mistreating cattle.

But the regulation allows plants to set apart and treat veal calves that are tired or cold, under USDA supervision -- an exception the Humane Society said should end.

"These regulations inadvertently incentivize slaughterhouses to move downed calves by inhumane methods," the Humane Society said in its petition to the USDA.

"USDA will consider any petition it receives," said spokeswoman Caleb Weaver. "Protecting animal welfare and ensuring a safe food supply are critical priorities for the department."

The Humane Society also plans to petition USDA to ban transport of calves younger than 10 days old. "We're going to ask the industry to join with us in urging a cessation of this industry practice," said Wayne Pacelle, the group's president.

The American Veal Association said in a statement that it believes the USDA investigation will determine if additional action should be taken in the wake of what it called "deplorable and unacceptable treatment of animals" at the Vermont plant.

(Editing by David Gregorio)

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