central valley meat investigation

Federal and State Laws: Animal Welfare & Food Safety


Compassion Over Killing’s undercover investigation inside Central Valley Meat reveals what we believe to be numerous violations of federal laws and regulations relating to animal welfare and food safety as well as state anti-cruelty laws. Our documentation exposes:

  • the repeated use of electric prods and physical force (lifting cows by their tails) of animals too sick or injured to walk, commonly referred to in the meat industry as “downers,” in an effort to get them to stand and walk;
  • excessive use of electric prods and other devices to force animals to move faster (or in the right direction) in the chutes leading to the kill floor; and
  • improper stunning prior to slaughter resulting in animals kicking and struggling as they’re being hoisted by a chain wrapped around one of their legs.

Cows who are too sick or weak to stand or walk on their own have a higher risk of carrying BSE, or mad cow disease. So in 2009, in response to an undercover video exposing extreme abuse inside another California-based meat slaughter plant which led to the nation’s largest-ever meat recall, the federal government permanently banned the slaughter of “downer” cows for human consumption.

In 2009, California also enacted a ban on selling or slaughtering all downed animals (including pigs). Earlier this year, however, after the meat industry sued over the law, the U.S  Supreme Court struck down most of the provisions of this state law.

Below are some excerpts from some relevant federal and state laws.

Federal Laws and Regulations

According to the USDA’s Food & Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) Directive on Livestock Inspections 6100.1, rev. 1 (emphasis added):

  • “When an establishment offers for slaughter recumbent livestock for ante-mortem inspection, the establishment may help an animal that is capable of rising by providing the animal support (e.g., providing a steadying hand).  Such support may not be by mechanical means, nor is the establishment permitted to lift the animal in any way.”
  • “The establishment must treat the animal humanely when attempting to have it rise or ambulate.  FSIS does not consider forcing an animal to stand or ambulate by kicking or prodding (e.g., electrical prodding) to be humane.
  • “Non-ambulatory disabled cattle are not eligible for slaughter.”

According to the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act 7 U.S.C. § 1902  (emphasis added):

  • ”No method of slaughtering or handling in connection with slaughtering shall be deemed to comply with the public policy of the United States unless it is humane. Either of the following two methods of slaughtering and handling are hereby found to be humane:

(a) in the case of cattle … all animals are rendered insensible to pain by a single blow or gunshot or an electrical, chemical or other means that is rapid and effective, before being shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut; or
(b) by slaughtering in accordance with the ritual requirements of the Jewish faith or any other religious faith …

The USDA’s FSIS Directive “Humane Handling & Slaughter of Livestock” (6900.2) provides definitions (emphasis added):

  • Egregious inhumane treatment: An egregious situation is any act or condition that results in severe harm to animals, for example:”
    • “Excessive beating or prodding of ambulatory or nonambulatory disabled animals or dragging of conscious animals”
    • “Stunning of animals and then allowing them to regain consciousness”
    • Multiple attempts, especially in the absence of immediate corrective measures,  to stun an animal versus a single blow or shot that renders an animal immediately unconscious”
    • “Otherwise causing unnecessary pain and suffering to animals, including situations on trucks.”
  • Humane Handling: Handling and slaughter practices that cause a minimum of excitement, pain, injury, or discomfortto livestock.

According to the “Handling of Livestock” regulation under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (9 C.F.R. § 313.2) (emphasis added):

  • “Driving of livestock from the unloading ramps to the holding pens and from the holding pens to the stunning area shall be done with a minimum of excitement and discomfort to the animals. Livestock shall not be forced to move faster than a normal walking speed.”
  • Electric prods, canvas slappers, or other implements employed to drive animals shall be used as little as possible in order to minimize excitement and injury. Any use of such implements which, in the opinion of the inspector, is excessive, is prohibited.”

According to the “Mechanical, Captive Bolt” regulation under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (9 CFR § 313.15):

  • “The animals shall be stunned in such a manner that they will be rendered unconscious with a minimum of excitement and discomfort.”
  • “The stunning operation is an exacting procedure and requires a well-trained and experienced operator. He must be able to accurately place the stunning instrument to produce immediate unconsciousness.”

California State Law

According to Calif. Penal Code § 597(a) & (b):

  • “…every person who maliciously and intentionally maims, mutilates, tortures, or wounds a living animal, or maliciously and intentionally kills an animal …  is, for every such offense, guilty of a crime …”
  • “…every person who…tortures, torments… cruelly beats, mutilates, or cruelly kills any animal, or causes or procures any animal to be so…cruelly beaten, mutilated, or cruelly killed; and whoever, having the charge or custody of any animal, either as owner or otherwise, subjects any animal to needless suffering, or inflicts unnecessary cruelty upon the animal, or in any manner abuses any animal… is, for every such offense, guilty of a crime…”