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They Can’t Pull the Wool Over Our Eyes: Tackling Lamb Cruelty in the US

During an inspection of a lamb slaughterhouse in the US, an official Government-appointed veterinarian witnessed a lamb who was ineffectively stunned three times before slaughter. Now, Animal Equality and other fellow advocates are calling for criminal charges to be imposed against the company and its supervisor.

On 28th March 2023, a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Public Health Veterinarian visited a Colorado lamb slaughterhouse operated by Colorado Lamb Processors, a facility responsible for killing around 1,550 sheep every day.

According to the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958, except in the cases of slaughter for religious or ritual purposes, sheep must be stunned before slaughter in a way that is ‘rapid’ and ‘effective’. However, during the inspection, the veterinarian was confronted with a distressing sight: a lamb on a conveyor belt, destined for slaughter, still fully conscious due to ineffective stunning.

This photo represents lamb slaughter and was not taken at a facility related to this case

Efforts were made to rectify the situation. The USDA representative urged employees to contact a supervisor, who attempted to stun the lamb with a back-up device known as a hand-held captive bolt gun. Still, the lamb remained conscious, moving their head around quickly and bleeding out of their nose. The supervisor attempted to stun the lamb a third time, still failing to render the lamb unconscious. It wasn’t until the intervention of the Slaughter Floor Manager, delivering the fourth and final blow, that the lamb was finally rendered unconscious.

Sheep, much like humans, are sensitive beings capable of experiencing fear and pain. The ordeal endured by this lamb would undoubtedly have been excruciating. Tragically, instances of ineffective stunning are not uncommon in farms worldwide.

What sets this incident apart is the first-hand witness account by an official veterinarian, coupled with the USDA’s acknowledgment of several violations of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Regulations. In spite of their acknowledgments, Colorado Lamb Processors then faced only minimal repercussions.

A Notice of Intended Enforcement was issued by the USDA and the slaughterhouse’s ability to operate was temporarily halted, the slaughterhouse soon opened up again. Alarmingly, just nine months later, a strikingly similar incident occurred; yet again, the company faced no significant repercussions.

In response, Animal Equality, in collaboration with the legal advocacy organisation Animal Partisan and a local Colorado attorney, have initiated legal proceedings.

The offence is punishable by up to one year in prison, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

Animal cruelty: not just a US issue

Across the world, Animal Equality investigators have consistently found instances of ineffective stunning before slaughter.

The UK is no exception. In 2019, our team released footage of sheep getting caught in slaughterhouse machinery and having their throats slit while they were suspended in the air; fish being left to suffocate on slaughterhouse floors or entering stunning machines in reverse; and pigs being hit in the head with a hammer, with one worker describing it “as good as any bullet”.

These are not isolated incidents.

In collaboration with The Animal Law Foundation, Animal Equality revealed that, on average, fewer than 3% of farms in the UK undergo inspection from a regulatory body each year. Furthermore, only half of complaints lodged against farms are investigated by officials. And when wrongdoing is substantiated, the consequences for animal abusers are often shockingly light, with little more than a written caution issued.

The situation is clear: animal protection laws are being broken time and time again and regulators across the world are failing miserably in their duty to intervene and protect these vulnerable animals.

Animal Equality’s team is doing everything in our power to change this. All of our eight offices are continuing to release investigative findings, challenging laws, and bringing court cases against those that are found to illegally abuse animals.

Right now, in the UK, our team is calling on the Government to implement licensing systems. In doing so, farms would be subject to increased unannounced inspections and appropriate penalties when farms fail to comply with the law.

Enough is enough. We cannot standby whilst millions of animals suffer out of sight, trapped in factory farms. Sign now to take action for farmed animals!

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