No Time for Wasting

Nearly two weeks after tests confirmed that a Texas cow was infected with mad cow disease—the second time that a downer cow, one too sick or injured to walk, was diagnosed with the brain-wasting disease in the United States—the U.S. Department of Agriculture has still not finalized a ban to keep downers out of the human food supply. Today, The HSUS and Farm Sanctuary filed a legal petition with the USDA to urge the agency to issue a permanent ban on the processing of downer cattle, arguing that the USDA has ample authority to do so.

The USDA certainly has enough evidence to justify a permanent ban. In December 2003, the United States had to grapple with its first case of mad cow disease after a downed cow in Washington State was diagnosed with bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The USDA appeared to grasp the dangers right from the start, quickly publishing a temporary emergency rule banning the processing of downer cattle. At that time, the USDA also suggested that a final rule would be forthcoming, but some 18 months later, it has still not surfaced, despite widespread public and Congressional support for such a policy. The second U.S. mad cow case now confirms what experts have been saying for years: Downed cattle are more susceptible to mad cow disease.

Banning downed cattle from the human food supply not only protects the public health, but it also promotes the humane treatment of cows. Downed animals sent to slaughter suffer immeasurably. They're often forced to walk with broken bones and other painful injuries, or when they can't move, the animals are forcibly dragged by chains or pushed by a bulldozer. A permanent ban on processing downed cattle would provide an incentive for producers to improve the handling and care of animals to make sure they don't go down in the first place.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has indicated that he supports finalizing a downer ban, but has also stated that before he makes any decision, he will carefully review public comments that the USDA has received on the downer ban. If so, he'll find that more than 99% of the approximately 22,000 public comments support a permanent ban on keeping downers out of the human food supply. Please thank Secretary Johanns for his comments in support of the downer ban, and let him know that you support a permanent ban.

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