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USDA Bans Processing of Downed Cattle for Human Consumption

December 30, 2003
Tuesday - 3:00 pm

Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman announced today that, "Effective immediately, USDA will ban all downer cattle from the human food chain."

This ban on the slaughter of downed cows is part of a government effort to quell public concerns in light of the recent discovery of mad cow disease in the United States. It is a historic victory for animal protection advocates, who have worked to end the inhumane marketing and slaughter of downed animals since the 1980s.

"We are delighted with Secretary Veneman's emphatic declaration that downed cattle are unfit for human consumption and will not be channeled into the human food supply," said Wayne Pacelle, a senior vice president at The Human Society of the United States, which is the nation's largest animal protection organization.

"This decision also means that these animals will no longer be inhumanely treated by being dragged by chains or pushed by bulldozers to get them to slaughter," said Pacelle.

The HSUS wrote to Secretary Veneman last week asking her to implement this ban. The letter relayed the history of efforts by The HSUS and Farm Sanctuary (a New York-based farm animal welfare group) to ban the processing of downed animals. In 2002, both chambers of Congress passed amendments to the Farm Security Act restricting the transport of downed animals, but a conference committee nixed the provision. Earlier this year, the Senate passed an amendment banning the processing of downed animals for human consumption, but the House rejected similar language by just three votes. A conference committee struck the downed animal language on Dec. 9 -- the very day that the Holstein infected with Mad Cow Disease was processed in Washington state.

According to USDA, there are perhaps 130,000 -190,000 animals that go down every year and cannot stand up again and that are presented at slaughterhouses. According to the best estimates provided by USDA for 1999 - 2001, nearly three quarters of these animals were processed for human food - often on the basis of only a visual inspection at slaughterhouses. Even with the stepped-up testing program of the USDA, HSUS said only 10-15 percent of downed animals were tested for BSE.

"We are pleased that the government is willing to reassess its position based on the facts at hand and the overwhelming view by Americans that processing downed animals is inhumane and unsafe," said Pacelle.

Gene Bauston the president of Farm Sanctuary said, "We are extremely happy that the USDA is agreeing to ban downed cattle from entering the human food chain. The ban will prevent enormous animal suffering by eliminating the cruel practice of dragging downed cattle to slaughter," stated "Removing downed animals from the human food chain will give farmers the incentive to prevent the problem in the first place. Ninety percent of downed animals can be prevented with better care on the farm, according to the meat industry itself. Today's decision is good for animals and good for consumers."

Farm Sanctuary has campaigned to ban the sale of downed animals since 1986. In 1998, Farm Sanctuary petitioned the USDA to ban downed animal slaughter. The USDA formally denied the petition in 1999, but the lawsuit was reinstated by a federal appellate court on Dec. 16, 2003, just one week before mad cow disease was discovered in the U.S. If the current ban on the slaughter of downed animals for human food remains in place, Farm Sanctuary will consider withdrawing its lawsuit.

Many details are yet to be determined, but this appears to be a major development. Prior to today's statement, the USDA had consistently defended and advocated for sending downed cattle to USDA slaughterhouses.


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