USDA proposes downer cow rule


WASHINGTON — The USDA revealed Aug. 27 a proposed rule to amend the federal meat inspection regulations to initiate a complete ban on the slaughter of cattle that become non-ambulatory after initial inspection by Food Safety and Inspection Service inspection personnel.

This proposed rule follows the May 20 announcement by Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer to remove the provision that states the FSIS inspection program will determine the disposition of cattle that become non-ambulatory disabled after they have passed ante-mortem, before slaughter, inspection on a case-by-case basis.


Under the proposed rule, all cattle that are non-ambulatory disabled at any time prior to slaughter, including those that become non-ambulatory disabled after passing ante-mortem inspection, will be condemned and properly disposed of.

“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,” said Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer.


On July 13, 2007, FSIS published the final rule, [link downloads pdf document] which allowed a case-by-case reinspection of cattle to address the rare situations where an animal that is deemed fit for human food at ante-mortem inspection subsequently suffers an injury.

Under the proposed rule, cattle that become non-ambulatory disabled from an acute injury after inspection will no longer be eligible to proceed to slaughter as “U.S. suspects.”

Instead, FSIS inspectors will tag these cattle as “U.S. condemned” and prohibit these animals from proceeding to slaughter.

Establishments will be required to notify FSIS personnel when cattle become disabled after passing ante-mortem inspection.


Of the nearly 34 million cattle that were slaughtered in 2007, less than 1,000 cattle that were re-inspected were actually approved by the veterinarian for slaughter.

This represents less than 0.003 percent of cattle slaughtered annually.


Comments on this proposed rule must be received on or before Sept. 29.

Comments can be sent to Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Room 2534 South Agriculture Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20250; e-mailed or submitted online at

All submissions received by mail or electronic mail must reference the Food Safety and Inspection Service and include the docket number FSIS-2008-0022.

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