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It Happened Again: Internet Video of Mistreatment of Cows

This is a guest post written by the CCA’s Ryder Lee, in collaboration with Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director.

California processor Central Valley Meat Co. is the subject of a recent Internet animal cruelty video released by anti-meat organization, ‘Compassion over Killing.’ The video captured instances of inhumane handling practices that are not condoned by the beef and cattle industry or the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) suspended operations at the company pending investigation of the animal welfare issues cited in the video.  The plant reopened after federal officials approved corrective action plans to improve the treatment of animals. As a result of the video, major customers, including McDonald’s Corp., cancelled or suspended contracts with the company.

These types of undercover videos, typically taken by activists with an ordinary cellphone, draw attention to animal welfare issues. Their underlying motivation in exposing such acts is not to improve animal agriculture; but to end it by falsely portraying inhumane practices as the industry norm.  There is no questioning their effectiveness with consumers; the video made international news, with parts or all of the video shown in coverage by ABC World NewsCNNNew York Times, Associated Press, Reuters, Los Angeles Times, and in the United Kingdom the Daily Mail.

It is important to note that after reviewing the video, renowned animal welfare expert Dr. Temple Grandin indicated that of the many animals filmed, one animal was improperly stunned in the video.  That context does not make the inhumane handling incidents in this video excusable — incidents that would no doubt sadden many producers. The CCA fully supports the statement issued by its U.S. counterpart, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), which called the actions depicted in the videos disgraceful and not representative of the cattle community. “Anyone who mistreats animals must be reported immediately and should be punished in accordance with the law. We must work together to put a stop to any abuse,” the NCBA said.

The video shows a lot of cattle being prodded when they have trouble rising or walking. It has long been illegal in Canada to haul infirm animals unless to a veterinarian for treatment. The CCA and industry as a whole supports this law as animal welfare is of primary importance to cattle producers. Additionally, the CCA has long been supportive of the Canadian Livestock Transport (CLT) Certification Program. The CCA views this training course for livestock transporters as proactive towards ensuring the safe transport of animals.

This latest activist video serves as an excellent reminder for producers to remain vigilant at all times about animal welfare. No doubt packers will be watching this video and working to ensure that they continue to do all that they can to prevent similar occurrences from happening at their facilities.  But the packer is not solely responsible for this situation; generally speaking most of these problems originated at the farm. Producers and truckers have an important ethical and legal responsibility not to load cattle that are not fit for the trip to the auction mart or the plant. Producers, cattle buyers and transporters can help avoid this type of situation by being conscientious about only shipping cattle that can travel without suffering. It only takes seconds for a smartphone to record video and post it to the Internet. Take some extra time to think about the animals you are planning to truck before you load them.

Here is a list of reminders for producers:

Some cows should not be shipped to auction marts under any circumstances. Do not load or transport:

  • Lame, downers, broken legs, or those that cannot rise, stand and walk under their own power.
  • Excessively thin cows (body condition score of 1) due to hardware disease, lumpjaw, malnutrition, old age, disease or any other cause should not be transported. Cows with a body condition score of 2/5 can be transported short distances if they are segregated.
  • Cancer eye: Do not transport animals with an obvious growth on the eyeball or eyelid. Advanced cases of cancer eye (i.e. the animal is blind or the eye has been obscured) are not fit for human consumption and will be condemned at the packing plant.
  • Prolapse: do not ship animals with an obviously displaced vagina or rectum.
  • Lactating cows: cows that are milking heavily or have mastitis should not be hauled, except for short distances, direct to slaughter.
  • Pregnant: Do not transport heavily pregnant cows or those expected to calve within a few weeks.
  • Diseased animals: if a reportable disease such as rabies, BSE, tuberculosis, etc. is suspected, it must be reported to the CFIA immediately. These animals must not be transported.

Do not transport these animals until the animal has been treated and /or recovered. If the animal is not expected to recover, euthanize it on the farm.

Alternatives: There are three main alternatives. The best option is to make cow culling decisions while these animals are still fit for transport. Animals that are not fit for transport may be euthanized and disposed of on farm instead. There are also companies in some areas across Canada that will pick up carcasses for a fee. Finally, cows that are free of drug, vaccine and other residues, do not have a fever above 39oC (104.5oF), have a body condition score of 2/5 or higher, and are able to walk under their own power may be salvageable through emergency slaughter. Animals that do not meet all of these criteria will be condemned.

For more advice on whether or not an animal is fit to load, consult your veterinarian, auction mart or a reputable trucker.

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