A regulatory change proposed by USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will, if enacted, provide for more humane treatment of veal calves presented for slaughter and should also have a positive impact on food safety.
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The rule change would improve industry compliance with the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and make the rule consistent with those enforced for adult cattle. Currently, veal calves that cannot stand up can be set aside and warmed or rested, and, when they regain the ability to walk, can then be presented for slaughter. The revision would require that veal calves that cannot rise and walk be promptly and humanely euthanized. The FSIS says the proposed rule change should improve the efficiency of its inspection program by allowing more time for activities related to food safety instead of the time now required for re-inspection of nonambulatory disabled veal calves.
The US Humane Society, in its petition calling on the USDA to address the regulatory loophole that “facilitates the cruel mistreatment of calves too weak, sick, or injured to walk,” said that current treatment of the calves raises several food safety concerns. Contamination of the hide of calves after lying in their own excrement is a key source of fecal cross-contamination with Giardia, Salmonella, and E coli. 0157:H7, the organization said. Because of the “substandard rearing conditions combined with long-distance transport,” the calves have high levels of stress and exhaustion, triggering excretion of Salmonella from calves that are carriers.
A report published in 2005 in Scientific and Technical Review of the Office International des Epizooties reviewed the food safety issues involved in animal welfare. The authors reported that endocrine changes occurring among stressed animals inhibit their immune response to infection, “thus potentially rendering animals more susceptible to infectious disease.” They said that overcrowded conditions increase shedding of E. coli 0157 in beef feedlots and more fecal shedding of bacteria by infected animals.
Several corporations, including some in the fast food industry, have announced their goals related to more humane treatment of the farm animals that are used in their products, including prohibitions on use of eggs from chickens raised in battery cages and pork from pigs that were confined to gestation crates.
Intensive confinement of animals to cages has been linked with “negative public health implications,” according to the Human Society International report on food safety and cage egg production. That report, published in 2011, said that 15 scientific studies had found a higher rate of Salmonella contamination associated with chickens confined to cages compared with those not raised in cages.