WASHINGTON – Last week, the American Meat Institute detailed in comments filed with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service the economic benefits of humane livestock handling. The association added FSIS should reject two petitions filed by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Farm Sanctuary, which suggest such incentives do not exist.

According to AMI, the HSUS petition would require the euthanizing of veal calves that cannot walk when they arrive at federally inspected plants. The petition further seeks to prohibit the common practice of warming veal calves to permit them time to rest and become ambulatory. FSIS indicated it is inclined to grant this petition. The Farm Sanctuary petition seeks immediate euthanization of any livestock arriving at plants that are non-ambulatory for any reason.

The petitioners argued in both petitions that when livestock are unable to walk, an incentive exists for plant personnel to abuse the animals and force them to walk. AMI’s comments deconstructed that argument by showing the strong incentives that exist to ensure an animal’s welfare – both in terms of the quality benefits and in terms of the costs attendant to lost production time when regulatory actions are taken in response to inhumane treatment of livestock.

Granting the Farm Sanctuary petition, in particular, would impede disease surveillance and could cause confusion if a non-ambulatory hog that is simply tired and refusing to rise becomes ambulatory before a veterinarian arrives to check it, AMI stated.

“Absent an FSIS dictate that all animals be held for ante-mortem inspection, many non-ambulatory animals would be euthanized and disposed of before being examined for disease,” AMI wrote. “Ironically, many animals, especially in the case of hogs, in the time it can take for the federal veterinarian to arrive to conduct such an inspection likely would become ambulatory, thereby creating a quandary regarding the status of such animals when subject to ante-mortem inspection. That is, would livestock in such circumstances still be subject to condemnation even if found not to be diseased? If so, why and if not, why should they be treated differently from animals that are non-ambulatory, are subjected to inspection, and also found to be disease free?”

AMI said in conclusion that granting the petitions would result in unnecessary waste with no identifiable benefit.

“If a non-ambulatory pig or veal calf could become ambulatory with rest or warming, if they can be handled in a way to minimize discomfort, if economic incentives exist to promote good care, and if these animals can pass ante-mortem inspection, is it really appropriate, ethically, morally, and otherwise, to turn livestock that have the potential to nourish people into little more than a waste disposal problem? In destroying these livestock, a farmer’s livelihood is also harmed dramatically,” AMI wrote.