SALEM, Ohio – The discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, in a downer dairy cow in Washington furthered the Humane Society of the United States’ point that downer animals should not be allowed to enter the food supply.
Downers are animals too sick or injured to move.
Warnings. “We have been warning for years that ‘downed animals’ represent the greatest threat of spreading mad cow disease in the United States,” said Wayne Pacelle, a senior vice president of the humane society.
Pacelle is calling on USDA to “impose an immediate ban on the slaughter of any downed animals for human consumption.”
In a conference Dec. 23, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said the standard operating procedure is to test animals “if they come to the slaughter facility as a downer animal.”
Nonambulatory animals are inspected by a USDA veterinary prior to entering a slaughter facility, according to USDA’s Ken Petersen.
According to information from the humane society, however, the USDA tests fewer than 10 percent of downed animals that find their way into the food supply.
The case of BSE in Canada earlier this year was also in a nonambulatory animal.
Not all downers at risk. The USDA’s chief veterinary officer, Ron DeHaven emphasized that there is a big difference between diseased cattle and nonambulatory, or downer, cattle.
Sometimes “nonambulatory” means the animal has difficulty walking because of a broken leg or other injury that has no bearing on the safety of the meat that might come from that animal, DeHaven stressed.
“Mot nonambulatory animals are not diseased,” DeHaven said.
A threat? Groups like the Humane Society of the United States and Farm Sanctuary have been fighting for legislation that would ban processing downed animals for human consumption.
This provision was dropped from the omnibus appropriations bill Dec. 9. That was the same date samples were taken from the cow with BSE.
The Downed Animal Protection Act, a free-standing bill rather than an amendment, is still in Congress.
Farm Sanctuary is involved with a lawsuit against the USDA for using the meat from downed animals in human consumption. The group argues this meat is “a grave threat to human health.”
“Perhaps the reason it took so long to find mad cow disease in the U.S. is that we have been eating the evidence,” said Gene Bauston, Farm Sanctuary president.
‘Undeniable.’ In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, the Humane Society of the United States argues the link between BSE and downed animals is now “undeniable.”
“To allow the continued processing of downed and diseased animals for human consumption is reckless and irresponsible.”
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