Caring for compromised cattle and euthanasia (Proceedings)
On January 30, 2008 the beef industry was reminded of the importance animal care. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) released a video showing abuse of compromised dairy cattle at a California slaughter house. In addition to abuse of compromised dairy cattle, it was clear that these compromised dairy cattle had entered the food chain. In response to the down dairy cattle entering the food chain form this plant, the USDA initiated a recall of at least 143 million pounds of ground beef associated with the meat processor. Though dairy cattle were depicted in the HSUS video, consumers often do not differentiate between beef and dairy cattle and the firestorm within the media left the beef industry with a black eye. One of the main customers of the plant was the USDA school lunch program. This case has been a rallying point for new legislation such as proposition 2 in California. One of the take home messages is that video cameras are as close as the next person with cellular phone.
In 2009, the Iowa Beef Industry Council (IBIC) released a manual entitled "Caring for Compromised Cattle". Images of a helpless animal; whether puppy, kitten, or cow; being abused or neglected will always elicit a strong emotional response. It is therefore critical for beef veterinarians and producers to demonstrate to the public that we are trustworthy caretakers of our animals. This care should be standard for all animals on the operation, but it is crucial that animals sent to market be carefully evaluated for fitness for marketing. Once the animal leaves the operation, you cannot assume that it will receive the same quality of care that it was given previously. For example, an animal that is compromised but not down, may not successfully handle the strain of marketing and become a downer during transit or after arrival. Animals entering the marketing chain are typically subjected to stressful events that include being transported to market, spending a day or more at an auction market, mixing with other cattle, and traversing a variety of surfaces that may provide less than ideal footing. Additionally, animal handlers in these facilities may not have the experience or caring attitude to manage compromised cattle. Regardless of who is at fault, when the poor handling of one of these animals is broadcast the entire beef industry suffers. Therefore, each individual beef operation needs to assure that they do not market compromised cattle.
Most beef cattle that are marketed are in excellent health and physical condition. However, a small percentage of cattle are marketed with health conditions that cause them to be compromised and unfit for normal marketing channels. Many of these compromised animals are condemned at slaughter and this ultimately produces a negative effect on prices. As demonstrated by the Hallmark incident, the financial return for marketing compromised cattle is not worth the potential scandal. It is more beneficial for the industry to humanely euthanize these animals on the premise and demonstrate good animal care and husbandry practices within the industry. There are some auction markets that are now chaining and locking their gates at night to prevent compromised cattle from being left at auction barn.In 2010 the AVMA revised the veterinarian's oath to reflect and increased attention on animal welfare. Veterinarians have a responsibility to be an advocate for good animal welfare for the cattle that are under their care. We need to become more assertive towards our clients when making recommendations regarding the best welfare of the animal. We expect when we make a diagnosis and prescribe a treatment that the cattle grower will follow our directions. We should have the same attitude towards welfare decisions as we have for treatment protocols.