USDA's Ban on Face Branding

FACE BRANDING: GOING,GOING...

by Henry Spira

On May 17th, the Federal Register published the USDA's proposal to end face branding of domestic cattle and bison in the agency's tuberculosis and brucellosis identification program. As you probably know, January 1995 saw an end to face branding of Mexican steers. However, smaller numbers of domestic cattle have continued to be face branded as part of disease control programs. With the current announcement we can look forward to the complete elimination of the face branding of cattle within the next few months.

USDA's Acting Assistant Secretary Patricia Jensen said, "We are committed to continually evaluating USDA identification requirements to ensure that our methods are both humane and effective for livestock disease control and public health purposes." Jensen also said that these proposed regulations are USDA's response to increasing public concern that hot-iron branding on the jaw may cause undue distress to cattle or bison.

Congratulations to all of you who voiced your strong concerns to the USDA. You stopped the proposed expansion of face branding in its tracks. In fact, the USDA was so impressed with your reaction that they moved to eliminate all face branding with speed uncharacteristic of a government agency.

Many of you also voiced strong concern to the USDA about other painful animal agriculture practices. This concern is now empowering USDA officials to place farm animal well-being on the federal agenda. A similar recognition by fast food giant McDonald's recently led the company to publish a statement requiring their suppliers to adhere to humane guidelines for farm animals. Independent experts are suggesting the McDonald's initiative is already making a meaningful difference. There will now be pressure on other major companies to take similar initiatives, including fast food parent PepsiCo, with whom we are now in discussion.

Until very recently, "food animals," who account for 95% of all animal suffering, have not been considered as appealing or deserving of concern as some other animals. But now, increasing numbers of individuals and organizations are beginning to direct serious energies towards solving the nightmarish problems of the more than seven billion farm animals in the USA.

Clearly, we now have momentum and enormous opportunities for progress. But not all the news is good news. In future columns, we'll discuss the negative trends, including: how the US is promoting the consumption of a debilitating, high-fat diet in countries that to date have benefited from a largely meatless life-style, and the proliferation of mega factories, where pigs live their entire lives in steel cages unable even to turn around, at a time when such cruel systems are being phased out elsewhere.

AWI Quarterly Fall 1995, Volume 44, Number 2, p. 16.


USDA's Ban on Face Branding: A Good Start!

The US Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health InspectionService (APHIS), under strong pressure from AWI and other groups, at longlast has made significant progress toward reducing inhumane treatment ofcattle imported into the US from Mexico.

Getting Off the Face

On August 24,1994, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) withdrewits misguided 1993 proposal "to require that spayed heifers and intactcattle imported into the United States from Mexico meet the same M-brandingrequirement" that has been routinely inflicted on Mexican steers.Until now, the USDA required that steers be painfully hot-iron brandedwith the letter "M" on the right jaw to signify the animals'Mexican origin. AWI objected to this attempt to expand a cruel procedurewhich causes extreme pain.

Less noticed in the heat of the Mexican steer campaign is a smallernumber of domestic animals who continue to be face branded as part of USDAdisease control programs. Animal protectionists are now urging the USDAto eliminate face branding across the board as a desirable alternativeto firing up new campaigns.

Under the modified proposal hot-iron branding is no longer mandatory,and all brands must be placed on the right hip rather than the extremelysensitive face of the animal. The mark must be "distinct, permanent,and legible," but it can be applied by freeze branding, which theUSDA will accept under the new proposal as a painless alternative to thehot-iron brand. In 1986, the AWI Quarterly reported on the workof Dr. Keith Farrell who invented and developed freeze branding, a methodwhereby liquid nitrogen rather than red hot iron is applied to the skin.Farrell described the feeling when he freeze branded himself as a "tinglingsensation" without pain. It is widely used for identification of expensivehorses but has been resisted by the cattle industry in the past.

However, it now appears that the National Cattlemen's Association (NCA)supports the modified branding proposal. Live Animal Trade & TransportMagazine, December 1994, quotes NCA comments to APHIS regarding thechange in procedure: "If APHIS determines that moving the 'M' brandwill provide an effective means of permanent identification, then we supportthis decision."

Accepting alternatives to hot iron branding is an extremely positivestep. USDA should now follow up with a seminal breakthrough, prohibitionof hot-iron branding of imported cattle. Without such a prohibition, individualswho currently use hot-iron brands are under no compulsion to change theirinhumane procedures.

Ovariectomy Protocol: Anesthetics at Last

Great progress also has been made in modifying USDA spaying requirementsfor Mexican cattle. The Department's ovariectomy protocol required that"a complete ovariectomy will be surgically performed through a flankincision on each heifer." Remarkably, there was no mention of anesthesia!

Effective July 12, 1994, USDA remedied the protocol's glaring deficiencyby requiring that either local or regional nerve block anesthesia be usedfor the surgery. Also changed was the unnecessary requirement that twopainful brands be applied to these animals: the "M" signifyingMexican origin and a spade mark, like that found on a playing card, indicatingcompletion of the spay surgery. Now, one brand, an "M" with aslash will be placed on the hip, reducing the double cruelty formerly inflicted.The NCA also agrees with this change in procedure.

If adopted, these modifications will make a major improvement in thetreatment of Mexican cattle. USDA clearly is listening to public opinion.


AWI Quarterly Fall 1994, Volume 43, Number 3, p. 12.