Time to ban slaughter of sick, injured animals: Column
A pig arrives at a slaughterhouse. She is so sick, her body so broken, that she cannot even stand on her own. What happens to her?
If she were a cow, to protect public health and the animal's own welfare, USDA policy would require her to be euthanized and removed from the food chain.
But pigs do not have the good fortune — if being so sick or injured you can't stand up is "good fortune" — to have been born cows; for no tenable reason, the rule for them is different. These animals, called "downers," may be suffering from "broken appendages, severed tendons or ligaments, nerve paralysis, fractured vertebral column," and more.
Nevertheless, the slaughterhouse is allowed to take her off the truck with a backhoe and to let her suffer indefinitely, with the hope that she will regain enough feeble control to stand; workers are even allowed to induce standing with electrical shocks.
If she eventually stands, this sick or injured animal can be killed for human food.
By official terminology, such helpless farm animals are called "downers." It's an unintentionally ironic term for a sad and all-too-common problem. According to the pork industry, more than half a million pigs annually arrive at slaughterhouses too sick or injured to walk.
First, USDA is required by the Federal Meat Inspection Act to ensure that adulterated meat does not enter the human food supply— a requirement that is violated when animals are held for hours or even days in filthy pens.Science confirms what intuition would strongly indicate, that these pens are bacterial incubators.
The Humane Slaughter Act is supposed to require that animals be treated with the least cruelty possible at slaughterhouses; but laws are only effective when enforced. USDA does a horrible job of enforcing this one. Nothing makes this point more effectively than the agency's decision to allow slaughterhouses to drag injured animals around their parking lots with construction equipment.
The agency's permissiveness violates its humane slaughter mandate in at least five independent ways, from encouraging cruelty to downed animals directly, to discouraging better treatment of animals at farms and feedlots.
Indeed, industry-funded studies link downer pigs to overcrowding in transport, excessive waiting times at slaughter establishments, transported at freezing temperatures and inhumane handling.
Additionally, documents my organization received through a Freedom of Information Act request show that when the USDA conducted its own analysis of cruelty to disabled animals, the agency found that sick and injured pigs suffer far more criminal abuse than do any other species.
When an injured pig arrives at the slaughterhouse with a broken leg or a severed spinal column, there is no justification for treating her differently from a cow who is suffering similarly. If the USDA wants to be taken seriously when it tells us that it cares about humane slaughter, the very least it can do is close this gasping loophole by banning the slaughter of all downed animals.
Bruce Friedrich is director of advocacy and policy for Farm Sanctuary.
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