USDA Proposes Ban of Downer Cattle

Schafer says ban will affect minimal number of cattle.

Tuesday Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer announced that the Food Safety and Inspection Service will draft a proposed rule to remove the exception that allows certain injured cattle to proceed to slaughter.

"USDA will begin working on a proposed rule to prohibit the slaughter of all disabled non-ambulatory cattle, also know as downer cattle," Schafer said. "In other words, I am calling for the end of the exceptions in the so called downer rule."

Currently animals that suffer an injury inside the plant after they have been inspected can go to slaughter if inspected again and passed by a veterinarian. Schafer says the ban will present a clear definition of what is and isn't allowed and he says the proposed rule won't affect that many cattle.

"Last year, of the nearly 34 million cattle that were slaughtered, under 1,000 cattle that were re-inspected were actually approved by the veterinarian for slaughter," Schafer says. "This represents less than 0.003% of cattle slaughtered annually. As you can see, this number is minimal."

Several groups and individuals voiced their support of the proposal. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, called the move a step in the right direction.

"Allowing the current rule to remain in force could ultimately undermine the confidence of U.S. consumers and foreign customers, in markets that are proving difficult to reopen in the first place," says American Meat Institute President J. Patrick Boyle. "We appreciate the Department’s prompt response and timely action."

The Human Society of the United States commended USDA for the move, but voiced concerns about the timeline for implementation. The rule is in the proposal stage and will be subject to a lengthy comment period.

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