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The “Downed Cattle” Debate : Don’t Slaughter them

http://www.latimes.com/la-na-downer26dec26,1,3831764.story

The discovery of “mad cow” disease in a Washington state Holstein � confirmed Thursday by British veterinary pathologists � has focused new attention on whether animals too disabled to walk to slaughter should be banned from the American food supply.
The animal that was tested had been flagged in the first place because it had been partially paralyzed, apparently after complications in delivering a calf, said W. Ron DeHaven, the Department of Agriculture’s chief veterinarian. The cow came from a dairy farm, where its career as a milk producer was over.
Animal welfare groups argue that such nonambulatory, or so-called downer, cows are more likely to carry or succumb to infectious diseases. They are calling on Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman to bar them from meat-processing plants.
The California Cattleman’s Assn., taking a position unpopular in the industry, said in November that the group supported prohibiting the slaughter of disabled cattle and encouraged the Department of Agriculture to expand its testing.

Animal rights groups estimate that of the 35 million to 40 million cattle slaughtered each year in the U.S., 130,000 to 190,000 are sent to meatpackers because they’ve been disabled. The organizations originally began lobbying against using downers for meat because they were concerned about the cruelty of dragging the animals in chains or carrying them on forklifts to be killed. But activists say they quickly began to worry about food safety as well.
California and several other states already ban the use of downers in some slaughterhouses. The Department of Agriculture decided three years ago to stop buying downer meat for the school lunch program because of concern about bacterial infections.
But efforts to enact a comprehensive national measure have been derailed in Congress by a few representatives, mostly from cattle states such as Texas.
In fact, on the same day that the diseased Holstein was killed, a Senate-House conference committee tossed out language in the agriculture appropriations bill that would have prevented the use of downer cows for food.
December 26, 2003
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THE NATION
Disease Heightens Beef Debate
A ‘mad cow’ find puts new emphasis on a call to ban the use of meat from disabled cattle.
Times Headlines
more >
WASHINGTON STATE
DISEASES MAD COW DISEASE LIVESTOCK CATTLE FOOD BEE
DISEASES
THE NATION
UNITED STATES
FOOD
LIVESTOCK
MAD COW DISEASE
BEEF
CATTLE
By Judy Pasternak, Times Staff Writer
WASHINGTON � The discovery of “mad cow” disease in a Washington state Holstein � confirmed Thursday by British veterinary pathologists � has focused new attention on whether animals too disabled to walk to slaughter should be banned from the American food supply.
The animal that was tested had been flagged in the first place because it had been partially paralyzed, apparently after complications in delivering a calf, said W. Ron DeHaven, the Department of Agriculture’s chief veterinarian. The cow came from a dairy farm, where its career as a milk producer was over.
Animal welfare groups argue that such nonambulatory, or so-called downer, cows are more likely to carry or succumb to infectious diseases. They are calling on Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman to bar them from meat-processing plants.
The California Cattleman’s Assn., taking a position unpopular in the industry, said in November that the group supported prohibiting the slaughter of disabled cattle and encouraged the Department of Agriculture to expand its testing.
“Anything’s on the table at this point,” DeHaven said Thursday. Changing the way downers are handled, he added, is among “a number of things we might or might not do.”
The Department of Agriculture noted this year that data from Europe, where “mad cow” disease previously emerged, indicate that downer cattle “have a greater incidence of BSE,” or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the scientific name for “mad cow” disease.
The first known U.S. case of the disease was announced Tuesday, based on Department of Agriculture tests in Ames, Iowa. Samples were sent to a laboratory in England. Scientists there agreed Thursday with the U.S. analysis of its Iowa test and said they planned to conduct further tests soon.
Agriculture officials have stressed that they consider the health risk to consumers to be extremely low. The slaughterhouse that processed the diseased cow, Verns Moses Lake Meats of Moses Lake, Wash., voluntarily recalled 10,410 pounds of meat, all that was handled on the day the animal was killed.
A case of “mad cow” disease surfaced in Canada in May. That animal also was unable to walk on its own. At that point, Consumers Union urged Veneman to “at a minimum” test all downed animals for the infectious disease, which can lead to a different fatal illness in humans.
Animal rights groups estimate that of the 35 million to 40 million cattle slaughtered each year in the U.S., 130,000 to 190,000 are sent to meatpackers because they’ve been disabled. The organizations originally began lobbying against using downers for meat because they were concerned about the cruelty of dragging the animals in chains or carrying them on forklifts to be killed. But activists say they quickly began to worry about food safety as well.
California and several other states already ban the use of downers in some slaughterhouses. The Department of Agriculture decided three years ago to stop buying downer meat for the school lunch program because of concern about bacterial infections.
But efforts to enact a comprehensive national measure have been derailed in Congress by a few representatives, mostly from cattle states such as Texas.
In fact, on the same day that the diseased Holstein was killed, a Senate-House conference committee tossed out language in the agriculture appropriations bill that would have prevented the use of downer cows for food.
The Senate had passed the provision. The House had defeated it on a 202-199 vote.
“If we allow downed animals to be slaughtered, we are playing Russian roulette with the American food supply,” said Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States.

Food inspectors can distinguish between animals that can’t walk because of disease and animals that can’t walk because of injury, Engeljohn wrote, adding that barring all downed animals’ meat “would have a serious economic impact.”
“If you ban all downer cows from the food chain, now what are you going to do with them?” asked Jim Cullor, a UC Davis professor of veterinary medicine. “Are you going to put them in pet food? Bury them all in a toxic waste dump? You can’t burn it because there are air-quality rules.”
A ban is “completely fair to talk about,” Cullor said. “But offer some solutions too.”