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'Downer' cows are banned from food supply

The Obama administration finalizes a rule prohibiting the slaughter of sick cows that pose a higher risk of mad cow disease.

March 15, 2009|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The government on Saturday permanently banned the slaughter of cows too sick or weak to stand on their own, seeking to further minimize the chance that mad cow disease could enter the food supply.

The Agriculture Department proposed the ban last year after the biggest beef recall in U.S. history. The recall involved a slaughterhouse in Chino and "downer" cows. The Obama administration finalized the ban Saturday.

"As part of our commitment to public health, our Agriculture Department is closing a loophole in the system to ensure that diseased cows don't find their way into the food supply," President Obama said in his weekly radio and video address.

Those kind of cows pose a higher risk of having mad cow disease. They are also susceptible to infections from bacteria that cause food poisoning, such as E. coli, because the animals wallow in feces.

The recall also raised concerns about the treatment of cattle and came after an investigator for the Humane Society of the United States videotaped workers abusing downer cows to force them to slaughter.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the ban was "a step forward for both food safety and the standards for humane treatment of animals."

The Humane Society's president and chief executive, Wayne Pacelle, said he was pleased that the government "is putting a stop to the inhumane and reckless practice of dragging and otherwise abusing downer cows in order to slaughter them for human consumption."

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