Blog | March 17, 2009

Downer Cows: Down and Out (of the food system)

KariThank you to everyone who commented on the important issue of the regulation of GE technology in our food and fields. GE and the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock are two big issues within our industrial food system. With The New York Times and all of you speaking up on these issues, we’re making progress. And now we can add President Obama to that list of folks trying to change our industrial food system!

Obama announced on Monday the permanent ban of the slaughter of downer cows; cows too sick or weak to stand on their own. The ban helps to further minimize the chance that mad cow disease could enter the food supply. It also ends a cruel and common practice in factory farms.

A partial ban on downer cows was put into place after our country’s first case of mad cow disease in 2003. But that ban contained a loophole that allowed cows with an injury not related to a central nervous system disorder, like a broken leg, to go into the food supply if they had passed inspection prior to their injury.

The Agriculture Department proposed the new, full ban last year after the biggest beef recall in U.S. history. The government finalized the ban this past weekend. “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.

Downer 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 lay 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.”

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