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FSIS to ban using 'downer' veal calves in food supplyFSIS to ban using 'downer' veal calves in food supply

Prohibiting slaughter of all non-ambulatory veal calves hoped to encourage improved treatment of calves and improve inspection efficiency.

Jacqui Fatka

July 14, 2016

2 Min Read
FSIS to ban using 'downer' veal calves in food supply

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) announced changes to improve humane handling inspections at facilities that produce veal meat.

FSIS will begin to require that veal calves that are brought to slaughter but cannot rise and walk (known as "downer" animals) be promptly and humanely euthanized and prohibited from entering the food supply. Previously, FSIS has allowed veal calves that are unable to rise from a recumbent position to be set aside and warmed or rested and then presented for slaughter if they regain the ability to walk. FSIS has found that this practice may contribute to the inhumane treatment of the veal calves. This change would improve compliance with the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act by encouraging improved treatment of veal calves as well as improve inspection efficiency by allowing FSIS inspection program personnel to devote more time to activities related to food safety.

Additionally, after review and consideration of comments to the proposed rule, FSIS is amending the regulations by removing a provision that requires antemortem inspection to be conducted in pens. This final rule makes clear that FSIS inspectors have the authority to conduct antemortem inspection and condemn non-ambulatory, disabled veal calves the moment they arrive on the premises of the establishment.

“FSIS is dedicated to ensuring that veal calves presented for slaughter at FSIS-inspected facilities are treated humanely,” deputy undersecretary Al Almanza said. “Prohibiting the slaughter of all non-ambulatory veal calves will continue this commitment and improve compliance with the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.”   

Since 2004, FSIS has prohibited the slaughter of non-ambulatory cattle for human food because the inability to rise may be a symptom of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). While BSE is not a serious risk in cattle younger than 30 months of age, the regulations apply to all cattle, including veal calves. Currently, unlike adult cattle, veal calves that regain the ability to walk after being warmed or rested may enter the food supply. In 2013, FSIS granted a petition by The Humane Society of the United States asking the agency to remove this provision. This new rule will remove the provision, thus requiring that non-ambulatory calves be promptly and humanely euthanized, in keeping with requirements for adult cattle.

Chris Galen, spokesperson for the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), said NMPF believes that USDA’s current regulations governing the inspection and treatment of non-ambulatory animals are effective in preventing any food safety concerns with veal calves by prohibiting the slaughter of cattle of any age that are either non-ambulatory prior to or become non-ambulatory after antemortem inspection. In fact, in 2008, NMPF, along with other organizations, petitioned FSIS to eliminate the loophole that allowed for the re-inspection of cattle that become non-ambulatory after passing antemortem inspection. FSIS codified this request in May 2008.

The final rule will be effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. A draft copy of the final rule is available at www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/regulations/federal-register/interim-and-final-rules.

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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