USDA proposes new regulation to improve humane handling of veal calves

By Agri-Pulse staff

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WASHINGTON, May 8, 2015 - The Department of Agriculture is proposing new regulations that it says will improve the food safety and humane treatment of veal calves at USDA inspected facilities.

The changes are designed to improve compliance under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA), which mandates proper treatment of all food animals harvested in USDA inspected plants with the exception of chicken and birds. Under the changes, veal calves that are unable to rise and walk will be promptly and humanely euthanized and prohibited from entering the food supply.

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Previously, veal calves unable to rise from a recumbent position were set aside to be warmed or rested and presented for harvest when they were able to walk. However, according to USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), “this practice may contribute to the inhumane treatment of veal calves.”

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), also known as mad cow disease. While BSE is not a serious risk in cattle younger than 30 months of age, the regulations apply to all cattle, including veal calves.

In 2013, FSIS granted a petition by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) asking the agency to remove this provision. The proposed regulation would do just that, requiring that non-ambulatory calves be promptly and humanely euthanized, in keeping with requirements for adult cattle.

In its petition, HSUS asked USDA to require immediate and humane euthanizing of veal calves under the same principles that govern more mature cattle under the HMSA, “(b)ecause USDA has interpreted (the HMSA) as mandating prompt euthanasia for mature cattle too sick or injured to stand, and because the same humane-spirited reasons and the same legal standard apply to calves.”

The proposed rule will be open for comment for 60 days.

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