Federal Ban on Consumption of Downed Cows

In his weekly address yesterday, President Obama declared a federal ban on the slaughter of “downed” cows (cows who are unable to walk or sometimes even stand on their own while being led slaughter) for food.  

This is a great victory as downed cows are prevalent due to the negligible medical care they receive on factory farms, the long period of time in which they are often transported to slaughterhouses without adequate food and water, and the rough conditions in which they are loaded, transported and unloaded.

Since 2003, when new rules were put in place to control Mad Cow disease, the federal government had enforced a general ban on downed cows. However, the ban contained a massive loophole for cows who collapsed after they were inspected, provided they showed no signs of Mad Cow disease or other similar disorders that could threaten human health.

Numerous undercover investigations by the Humane Society of the United States and other have found that, once unloaded from trucks at slaughterhouses, down cows are often trampled by their herd mates. They are often beaten, shocked with cattle prods and dragged with chains by workers attempting to force them to stand and walk. In February, 2008, the Humane Society of the United States released undercover footage of workers at a Hallmark/Westland Meat Company slaughterhouse in Chino, CA abusing downed dairy cows. The footage shocked lawmakers and citizens alike, yet revealed nothing new. Rather, it reflected what has become standard practice in an industry left to largely police itself.

Three months later, President Bush’s Secretary of Agriculture announced that the government would finally ban the slaughter of downed cows. Three months after that, the USDA proposed a rule to achieve this aim. Just a few days ago, President Obama urged the USDA, through language included in a spending bill, to finalize its new rule: a stance reflected in yesterday’s announcement. View a timeline of events here.

Current Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said that this is a “step forward for both food safety and the standards for humane treatment of animals.” This is good news for cows all over the U.S.!

-Suzanne McMillan


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