A recently released undercover investigation by animal protection group SEED reveals cows being kicked, shocked with electric prods, and left to die at a live animal auction. On top of the abuse, according to SEED, the investigator uncovered the possibly illegal removal of cow’s ID tags—which could disrupt the tracking of dangerous diseases.
The auctions usually purchase “spent” cows—those worn out from years of pregnancy and milk production—from dairy farms across the country and sell them to beef producers for slaughter. While cows can naturally live 15 to 20 years, cows at dairy farms are considered “spent” at just three to five years.
These cows often endure grueling conditions in transport to live auction. SEED’s footage reveals cows kicked and shoved into packed trailers. One cow scrambles to stand, stepping on others. Many do not survive the journey. According to SEED, the cows sometimes arrive at the auction facility so sick that they live only a couple of hours before dying or being euthanized.
The footage shows cows limping, barely able to support their own weight, and sick cows repeatedly shocked with electric prods before being moved to “dead piles.” According to investigators, these animals were left to die among cows who had already been killed. SEED also documented sick, injured, and dying cows kept in close quarters with healthy ones, conditions that promote rapid spread of disease.
In addition to rampant abuse, SEED’s investigation repeatedly documented the removal and replacement of cows’ ID tags. “They take this off or that off,” a man says in the footage. “They sell them like organic cows.” According to SEED, by selling cows as certified organic, the auction could get three to four times more money.
In the United States, cows are given unique identifying tag numbers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture mandates that these tags never be removed. When the auction mislabels cows or removes their tags, they could disrupt the tracing of where the cows come from.
With so many cows from across the country brought together, the tags are the only way to track contagious diseases by following the animals’ owners and travel history. As cows have been linked to anthrax, “mad cow” disease, and tuberculosis, such tracking is important. Experts predict that the next pandemic will likely come from a factory farm. Three out of four emerging infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic—meaning they are passed to humans from animals.
Additionally, the meat industry prioritizes profits over all else, so animals are kept in cramped, filthy conditions. In these environments, diseases such as swine flu and avian flu spread easily and quickly.