It all began with the rescue of Hilda, a downed sheep left to die on a dead pile 25 years ago. With a little kindness and compassion, this suffering sheep, who had been callously tossed aside at a stockyard, regained her health and became an ambassador for farm animals everywhere. Ever since Hilda’s rescue, Farm Sanctuary has been dedicated to ending the suffering of animals too ill, injured or weak to stand or walk, and making great strides in changing laws and policies to protect them through our No Downers Campaign. Now, with your help, we have the opportunity to inspire another big step forward.
Like Hilda, more than a million farm animals become downed every year. And, sadly, they are often subjected to extreme abuse and neglect. In 2009, recognizing the enormous potential for inhumane treatment and food safety risks associated with slaughtering downed animals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a rule to prohibit the slaughter of downed cattle and require that they be humanely euthanized at U.S. slaughterhouses. Though this rule was a step in the right direction for cattle, other farm animals, including pigs, goats and sheep, were left unprotected.
Last year, Farm Sanctuary submitted a petition for rulemaking to the USDA requesting that the agency extend the 2009 rule to include other farm animals. What ultimately became a ban on downed cattle slaughter was inspired by an undercover investigation revealing horrendous abuse of downed cows at a California slaughter plant that Farm Sanctuary had also investigated in 1993. Video footage and other evidence showed workers kicking cows, forcefully prodding them with the blades of a forklift, jabbing them repeatedly in the eyes and other sensitive areas, and even forcing water up a cow’s nose to simulate drowning and force the animal to rise. What the USDA has failed to recognize, however, is that countless pigs, goats and sheep are subjected to similar abuse and deserve the same protections.
Because a downed pig, sheep or goat who doesn’t make it to the kill floor could mean a loss in profits, and because, unlike cattle, they are still eligible for slaughter, workers often stop at nothing to force them through the disassembly line. As cited in our petition, slaughterhouse non-compliance reports demonstrate time and again that workers treat suffering downed pigs, goats and sheep with horrific cruelty – shocking, kicking, beating, and dragging them to slaughter. One report details workers allowing pigs to trample a downer in an alley, while others recount downed pigs squealing and struggling as workers beat and kick them. Still more describe ailing sheep and goats being left to suffer without food, water or veterinary treatment. And beyond these non-compliance reports is the extensive evidence Farm Sanctuary has collected first hand while carrying out investigations of our own through the years – starting way back in 1986 when Hilda was rescued and the organization was first born.
It’s time that the USDA recognizes that all farm animals are capable of suffering and that the same basic protections currently afforded to cattle should be extended to other animals as well. Fortunately, we may be one step closer. On February 7, 2011, the USDA responded to our petition by announcing that it will accept public comment on the issue. Now is our chance to show the agency that our nation’s citizens won’t ignore the suffering of downed animals and demand that they extend the rule to include pigs, sheep and goats. Please join us in urging the USDA to take this logical and necessary next step.