Just a few weeks ago, animal behaviorist Temple Grandin gave a speech in which she suggested implementing live video feeds of livestock operations. This week, the Vermont Senate passed a bill that might lead to video cameras in slaughterhouses. According to WCAX News, “The bill would set up a $5,000 fine for animal cruelty and any slaughterhouse with two violations would need to install video cameras for inspectors to review.”

The law was enacted largely in response to horrible abuses of calves at Bushway Packing, Inc. of Grand Isle, Vermont. Bushway is primarily a veal slaughterhouse. The abuses were revealed as a result of an undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States. Among the cruelties videoed by the HSUS are animals being “kicked, slapped and repeatedly shocked with electric prods and subjected to other mistreatment.” Other examples of cruel behaviour include:

  • Failing to ensure that stunned calves had been rendered insensible to pain before slaughter.
  • Workers, including the plant’s co-owner,  repeatedly shocking calves who seem weak and unable to stand. In at least one instance, a calf was shocked more than 30 times.
  • A worker attempting to skin a calf who is still alive, directly in front of a USDA inspector, who allows the abuse to continue.

In perhaps the saddest example, “the co-owner of the plant shocks and then heaves a downed calf to his feet saying ‘There’s nothing wrong with you, Shitbox.’ The infant animal, covered in his own diarrhea, staggers and falls hard into the side of the trailer.”

Not surprisingly, Temple Grandin called “the handling practices and attention to insensibility” at Bushway “unacceptable and must improve.”

Now the Vermont Senate is taking a stand against companies who abuse livestock. Fines would increase, violators would face the possibility of having to install video cameras to monitor conditions at their slaughterhouses, and it would become easier to shut down repeat offenders. State Senator and former dairy farmer Harold Giard said in a speech, “I loved my cattle and my calves and to think that this was taking place when I had to ship my bull calves was absolutely shocking to me and that’s why I’m arguing so much for this. I was shocked by what I saw in the video at Bushway and appalled by it.” Sen. John Campbell, quoted in Greenwich Timeadded, “We will not stand for animals being treated in this fashion…”

As to be expected, the minions of the animal agriculture industry were not pleased. Sen. Sara Kittell, chairwoman of Vermont’s Senate Agriculture Committee, objected to the proposed law, since “her committee had not studied it and that the new council should be given a chance to study and make recommendations on slaughterhouse regulations before tough new legislation is enacted.” Why do I doubt her committee’s recommendations would have the best interests of the animals at heart? And Sen. Jeanette White said a new slaughterhouse had just started up business in her district and she didn’t want to hamper its operators. The new American business paradigm: Cruelty can’t interfere with capitalism, and pain can’t preempt profit.

Whether or not the new regulations become law, the senators of Vermont have taken an important step in cracking down on the abuses of animals that have become all too common in the U.S. agricultural system. Hopefully the law will go in effect, and hopefully more states will follow suit. Alas, in most parts of the country, money talks louder than animals scream. And the animal agriculture interests have lots of money.

Photo Credit: PETA