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Published April 30, 2010, 09:44 AM

Vermont Senate approves slaughterhouse crackdown

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Six months after release of an undercover video showing calves allegedly being skinned alive and having their throats cut while conscious at a Vermont slaughterhouse, the state Senate on Wednesday approved a crackdown on abusive treatment of animals heading to slaughter.

By: Dave Gram, Associated Press

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Six months after release of an undercover video showing calves allegedly being skinned alive and having their throats cut while conscious at a Vermont slaughterhouse, the state Senate on Wednesday approved a crackdown on abusive treatment of animals heading to slaughter.

“You do not skin calves that are still alive. You do not cut the throats of animals that are conscious of what you’re doing,” Sen. Harold Giard, an Addison County Democrat, said Wednesday in an impassioned speech introducing an amendment on the topic.

“As a former dairy farmer I find it shocking that they would take animals that I shipped and that was how they were treated.”

Dr. Peggy Larson, a Colchester veterinarian and former state meat inspector who attended Wednesday’s debate, said the proper way to slaughter the calves — in Vermont, usually young males culled from dairy herds — is to knock them unconscious with a stun gun to the back of the head and then to cut their throats.

Giard and two other senators, Democratic leader John Campbell and Vincent Illuzzi, a Republican representing Essex and Orleans counties, offered an amendment boosting the fine for cruelty to livestock from $50 to $5,000 on a first offense, $10,000 on a second offense, and $25,000 on a third. A slaughterhouse where cruelty was found also could be subject to video surveillance thereafter. Repeat offenders could face permanent shutdown.

“We will not stand for animals being treated in this fashion,” Campbell said.

The underlying bill to which the amendment was attached called for the creation of a new Livestock Care Standards Advisory Council to recommend new standards for treatment of animals in Vermont slaughterhouses, which currently number eight.

Sen. Sara Kittell, a Franklin County Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, objected to the amendment, saying 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.

“We don’t make laws on the floor of the Senate,” she said during a break in the debate. “There’s been no testimony on

this.”

Sen. Jeanette White, a Windham County Democrat, said a new slaughterhouse had just started up business in her district and she didn’t want to hamstring its operators.

“I just want to make sure we’re not overreacting to a really ugly situation,” she said.

The Bushway slaughterhouse had been cited three times for inhumane treatment of animals before the Humane Society of the United States released video in October. The organization said it had been gathered by an undercover investigator who had worked at the slaughterhouse for several weeks.

The video appeared to depict animals, several of them days-old calves barely able to walk, being shocked with prods, kicked and cut while conscious. The slaughterhouse was shut down, and state and federal authorities said they were investigating, but no charges had been announced as of Wednesday.

Vermont Agency of Agriculture spokeswoman Kelly Loftus said she had no information to update the status of the investigation.

Brian Mabry, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, which regulates slaughterhouses, said a USDA inspector implicated in the Bushway investigation had been fired and that a criminal investigation was continuing.

He said a new company was taking over the slaughterhouse, but that it had not yet been authorized to resume operations.

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