USDA Closes Slaughter Loopholes for “Downed Calves and Cows

Last week we celebrated another meaningful advancement in the legal status of farmed animals. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it would close two major loopholes in its humane slaughter regulations. The move will provide compassionate euthanasia to spare some of the most abused farmed animals from protracted suffering.

After surviving their time on factory farms and slaughterhouse transport trucks, many animals are “downed—that is, too sick or injured to even stand. For more than a decade, FSIS has prohibited the slaughter of downed adult cows for human consumption, citing serious animal welfare and food safety concerns.

A new FSIS rule, which takes effect in September, finally extends this same protection to the roughly 1 million young calves who are slaughtered for veal every year. Some of these calves are newborns, the unwanted offspring of the dairy industry. Others have been raised for months in extreme confinement and fed an unhealthy low-iron diet to produce the more expensive “milk-fed veal. In either case, many of these calves arrive at slaughter in disastrously poor health. The new rule will make it harder for the industry to profit from this abuse.

The rule also clarifies that FSIS inspection authority begins once cows are trucked onto slaughterhouse premises, not once they are loaded into pens. According to the USDA’s Office of Inspector General, some producers have avoided the agency’s downer requirements simply by withholding downed cows from inspection and keeping them to languish on cargo trucks. By clarifying the broad scope of FSIS’s inspection authority, the new rule should ensure that producers cannot evade humane slaughter requirements so easily.

We still have far to go, but every step our legal system makes toward recognizing the intrinsic value of farmed animals is a victory. In the meantime, the easiest way to prevent their suffering is simply to leave them off your plate. Visit to learn more.