An investigation has revealed illegal confinement, a mass graveyard full of maggot-infested corpses, and filthy living conditions for thousands of calves and cows at Costco beef suppliers Ray-Mar Farms and Harris Ranch in Northern California.

An animal rights group released an investigation into Northern California beef farms which were found to be operating in violation of California’s Proposition 2. Proposition 2 passed overwhelmingly by Californians in 2008 and banned confinement of certain farm animals in any manner that would limit their free movement.

The investigation was carried out by Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), an animal rights activist group that enters farms, slaughterhouses, breeding establishments and other agricultural facilities to document animal abuse and rescue injured or sick animals. Led by Julianne Perry, the investigators found “thousands of baby calves confined to crates barely larger than their own bodies, suffering from respiratory issues due to filthy air, thick with ammonia.” A few feet away from the crates DxE reported seeing a mass graveyard with dozens of decomposing and maggot-infested carcasses of calves and adult cows.

Dead calf lying on dung as maggots feast on its carcass. Source; DxE

Before sneaking into the farm, Perry and her team had relied on Google Maps to try to grasp the scope of operations on the farm. From the satellite imagery, they counted at least 4,000 hutches with three stalls each–each stall barely larger than a bathtub.

These hutches were expected to be the housing for more than 10,000 calves.

Once inside the farm, the investigators found thousands of Holstein and Jersey calves crammed in very small stalls that barely allowed them to even turn around. The stalls had slats that would allow dung to fall into a gutter below, but not all of it fell into the gutter. The calves were, as a result covered in their own dung, which caused an obnoxious stench to fill air.

“They pee, poop, eat and sleep in one small space. You can’t compare the smell to anything,” said Perry. “It fills your senses in a way that you can’t think of anything but how sick you feel, your brain telling you that you can’t survive here,” she added.

The investigation, which was initially meant to find out whether Proposition 2 was being enforced, revealed a loophole in the law which may somehow rule out illegality in the operations of these beef farms. According to the Proposition, “cruelty” was defined as confinement that makes an animal unable to perform its natural behaviors, and it was banned for animals kept for any food described as veal. That means that if an animal is raised in confinement, slaughtered and the meat sold as “veal,” then it’s illegal, but if the meat is sold as “beef,” then it’s legal.

Jones, an Analyst from Animal Welfare Institute, acknowledged the loophole, but thought it was selfish of the beef farms to exploit it: “While this situation may not be a violation of the law passed as Prop 2 in 2008, it certainly violates the spirit of that law. If Californians were made aware of this form of animal treatment, I believe most would strongly disapprove.”

Nick, an emaciated calf rescued by DxE investigators, diagnosed with pneumonia upon calling a vet for him. Source: DxE

Amanda Ruberg, an investigator with DxE, supported Jones’ sentiments: “When ordinary people see what’s happening to animals, they’re horrified. They want legal protection for animals and animal rescuers, not for animal abusers.”

Thankfully, a referendum slated for November will enable California voters to amend the areas Prop 2 left ambiguous and help save animals from cruelty. If passed, the new proposition will define exactly what constitutes “natural behaviors for animals” in confinement, and allow for spaces defined at engineering levels for each animal. It will also ban products from confined hens, sows and calves from being sold in California, no matter where they were produced.

In September, a DxE investigation emboldened Wisconsin residents to stand up and fight inhumane dog abuse at a research breeding facility in the state.

DxE has organized a petition that seeks 5,000 signatures to help free the baby cows from further mistreatment. You can sign the petition here.


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