Aug 27, 2008 (CIDRAP News) Following up on a May announcement, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) today published a proposed rule to ban any use of disabled cattle for food.
The rule would close a loophole that currently allows some nonambulatory cattle to be processed into food. The USDA banned the food use of "downer" cattle in January 2004, after the first US case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, was found. But the agency made an exception for cattle that became disabled after their preslaughter inspection by a USDA veterinarian, if a second inspection showed that the problem was something that didn't affect food safety, such as a broken leg.
The proposed rule says that any cattle that become unable to walk at any time before slaughter "will be condemned and properly disposed of," the USDA said in a news release today. Operators will be required to notify USDA personnel when cattle become disabled after passing their preslaughter inspection.
Repeating his statement in the May announcement, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said, "To maintain consumer confidence in the food supply, eliminate further misunderstanding of the rule and, ultimately, to make a positive impact on the humane handling of cattle, I believe it is sound policy to simplify this matter by initiating a complete ban on the slaughter of downer cattle."
The processing of downer cattle into food became a hot issue in January, when undercover videotaping by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) showed workers at a California slaughterhouse using forklifts, electric prods, and water sprays to try to move disabled dairy cows. The revelations led to the recall of 143 million pounds of beef by Hallmark/Westland meat Co. of Chino, Calif., the largest beef recall in US history.
The USDA said fewer than 1,000 cattle that became disabled after their preslaughter inspection and were reinspected were processed into food in 2007, out of nearly 34 million cattle slaughtered.
The agency is inviting the public to comment on the proposed rule by Sep 29.
Aug 27 USDA news release with instructions for commenting
Advance copy of USDA Federal Register notice of the proposed rule
May 21 CIDRAP News story "USDA to ban all 'downer' cattle from food supply"