Finally, US Bans Diseased Cattle from Food SupplyMar 16, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP At long last, a rule finalized this weekend will ban so-called “downer” cattle from entering U.S. slaughterhouses, said Reuters. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) finalized the rule nearly one year after the largest meat recall in American history, Reuters added.
In 2008, a shocking video was released that showed California’s Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing plant workers forcing sick and injured cattle into a slaughterhouse, said Reuters. Shortly after, the USDA proposed the total downer cattle ban, and Hallmark/Westland recalled 143 million pounds of meat, reported Reuters.
"This rule is designed to enhance consumer confidence and humane handling standards and will provide clear guidance that non-ambulatory cattle will not be allowed to enter the human food supply," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement, adding, "It is a step forward for both food safety and the standards for humane treatment of animals," quoted Reuters.
Newsday noted that the federal ban is a permanent ban preventing cows too ill or weak to stand on their own from being slaughtered, a step to ensure that the possibility of the deadly and brain-wasting mad cow disease entering the American food supply is minimized. Such ill cattle, said Newsday, run an increased risk of coming down with bacterial infections linked to food borne illness such as E. coli, which runs rampant when animals are forced to live in their feces, as is often the case, noted Newsday. The Examiner noted that the USDA opposed the downer cattle ban in 2008.
In the past, most downer cattle were banned, said Reuters; however, the majority of farmers believed it was more humane and safe to quickly slaughter a downed cow, placing its meat in the food supply, said the Examiner. The USDA agreed and permitted some animals too injured to move following inspection to be slaughtered for meat; however, meat packers were mandated to alert USDA veterinarians when presented with an injured animal so that the cattle could undergo re-inspection prior to slaughter for food, reported Reuters. The new rule prohibits such slaughtering and mandates that the ill cattle be marked “U.S. Condemned,” said Reuters. Also meat packers will now be required to notify USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) when cattle become disabled following initial inspection.
Meanwhile, an article by USA Today in 2008 reported that audits conducted by the FSIS following the massive Hallmark/Westland recall, found a National Beef Packing Company plant in Dodge City, Kansas and a Cargill Meat Solutions plant in Fresno, California to be in "noncompliance." USA Today also reported that 18 other slaughterhouse audits at that time revealed that cattle were not always initially properly stunned, some were overcrowded, and others required electric prodding. The FSIS temporarily shut down Martin's Abattoir and Wholesale Meats in Godwin, North Carolina, for “insufficiently stunning animals” and “failing to make them insensible to pain on the first attempt,” added USA Today and reported that the FSIS issued a “noncompliance” order to Dakota Premium Foods of South St. Paul, Minnesota for “excessive bunching up of cattle going into the stunning area.” The FSIS also cited National Beef for “overcrowded holding pens,” said USA Today.