In March of this year President Barack Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack closed a loophole that allowed downed cattle – those too sick to stand or walk on their own – to enter the human food supply. While this was an historic step in the right direction, our long-term battle to protect downed animals is not over. Despite the downed cattle ban, as many as one million downed animals enter the food supply annually. Pigs are at a particularly high risk for becoming downed, because they are bred to gain weight rapidly, making them more prone to leg problems. Downed sheep, goats and other animals also continue to be slaughtered for human food.
By allowing for the slaughter of these downers, the government disregards important animal welfare and human health concerns. Due to their size, it is often extremely difficult to move downed farm animals (pigs, for example, typically weigh more than 200 pounds), so industry workers will use any means possible – no matter how cruel – to get these animals from one place to another. Downers may also languish for several hours or days before they are slaughtered. Often left to lie on ground soiled by urine and manure, these animals typically suffer the unrelenting torment of broken limbs, painful infections, burning fevers, or other maladies. When it’s their turn to be slaughtered (if they haven’t already died from neglect), they’re often dragged, beaten, pushed with forklifts, or shocked with electric prods to get them to the kill floor, where the fast pace of slaughterhouse operations leads to even more mishandling and extreme suffering.
Every year in the U.S., tens of thousands of sheep like this one become "downed."
Slaughtering downed animals also poses risks to consumers. The inability to stand is a strong indicator of disease. Most cases of mad cow disease identified in cattle have been discovered in downers. Slaughterhouse records also show that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved meat from downers with gangrene, hepatitis, malignant lymphoma, pneumonia, and other diseases. One review of USDA records revealed that more than 70 percent of downers were approved for human consumption. While a broken leg or other injury can easily be identified, such injuries are often secondary to more serious health problems. In fact, sick animals are more likely to fall and become injured than healthy ones. Finally, because downed animals are often left to lie in filthy conditions, their skin can easily pick up fecal bacteria and other pathogens that can contaminate their flesh as it is cut apart.
More than seven years ago, Congress amended the Humane Slaughter Act, requiring that the USDA address the treatment of all downed animals by preparing a report on the issue and then establishing any regulations needed to ensure that downers are treated more humanely. Despite this mandate, the USDA has failed to take action and continues to allow downed animals to suffer unnecessarily and be killed for human food. That’s why we are petitioning President Obama to hold the USDA accountable and extend protections to downed pigs and other animals. Please join us by taking a moment now to sign our petition, and ask your friends, co-workers and family members to do the same.