Operations at the Shrewsbury, NJ slaughterhouse of Catelli Brothers, a South Jersey-based veal distributor, were ordered suspended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) after an undercover investigation revealed alleged animal abuse at the facility.
A letter from FSIS listed off, in detail, a number of instances of "inhumane slaughter and handling of cattle" that dated from September 10 to October 31, 2013.
Despite Catelli Brothers having a "systematic approach to its humane handling program," FSIS described observing "egregious" noncompliance with any such plan, and pulled its inspectors off the property on January 24.
Without inspectors, slaughtering operations at the facility cannot proceed.
Catelli Brothers does business with several markets in Pennsylvania.
Incidents of alleged abuse
The FSIS letter catalogued a number of instances of animal cruelty at the Shrewsbury facility that were depicted on video footage turned over to investigators.
That same footage may be viewed here with the strong caveat that it is graphic.
- On September 24, the agency documented "an egregious noncompliance," in which an allegedly improperly stunned animal regained consciousness while it was being slaughtered.
- On October 11, "the video recorded a conscious animal that had not been stunned" and was being beaten in the face "with the flat side of a rattle paddle," a tool used for moving livestock.
- On October 17, USDA describes a scene in which a chained calf with an apparently injured leg was described as "lazy," and allegedly was dragged from a trailer while lying on its side.
- On that same date, the agency noted another two instances in which workers at the plant yanked on calves' ears, tails, and rolled them over in attempts to motivate them to move—all of which behaviors, the agency notes, are prohibited by law.
"This case really represents a problem that is national," said Peter Wood, a research associate for the Humane Society of the United States who reviewed the footage from the case.
Wood said that although adult cattle who are "too injured, sick, or weak" to rise to their feet are required by law to be euthanized, no such stipulation exists for downed calves.
"If adult cows are euthanized to prevent abuses, why shouldn't calves [be]?" Wood asked.
Besides the safety risks presented by slaughtering an unwell animal for food, Wood said the abuses shown in the video are beyond the pale.
"If you see a conscious animal hanging upside down from a chain, and his neck is open because he's being bled out, I think anyone with an ounce of compassion would just be shocked and horrified and outraged," he said.
"It's one of the worst videos I've seen," Wood said, "and I've seen a lot of cases over the years.
"No living being deserves to suffer like that," he said.
"Time and again we find incredible suffering and cruelty in factory farms and slaughterhouses," Wood said. "If people who care demand change from the government and industry, then hopefully we'll see that."
'A poster boy for animal cruelty'
Writing on behalf of the Humane Society, Bernard E. Rollin, a bioethicist from Colorado State University, agreed that the abuses he saw on the video were among the three worst he can recollect.
"This video is, as it were, a poster boy for animal cruelty," Rollin wrote in an open letter provided by the Humane Society.
"There is no sign of good management, of the sort that would quickly put a stop to the sadism which is not only brutal, but counterproductive to the economic mission of the operation."
Catelli Brothers did not immediately respond to calls for comment on Monday evening, but its website did provide the following statement:
"For two generations, Catelli Brothers has recognized our ethical obligation for the well-being of calves that are in our care, and we take our commitment to humane treatment of every calf seriously.
"We are deeply concerned about the allegations that have been made regarding the care of calves at our facility. Any mistreatment of animals at our facility is unacceptable, and our established practices strictly prohibit the processing of any downed calves.
"Our company is cooperating fully with U.S. Department of Agriculture officials as we investigate the situation.
"In addition, the very day these concerns were brought to our attention, we retained one of the nation’s leading experts on animal care and handling in meat plants, and he was on site within 24 hours to help us gather facts and identify necessary changes to ensure that we are providing optimal care and humane treatment of every calf that enters our facility.
"We are prepared to take the necessary action as the investigation warrants."
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