USDA to reinstate ban on slaughtering downed cattle for human consumption

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2008:

WASHINGTON D.C.–U.S. Agri-culture
Secretary Ed Schafer on May 20, 2008 concluded a
60-day review of U.S. slaughtering procedures by
announcing a total ban on killing for human
consumption any cattle “who are too weak to rise
or walk.”
“The planned change would shut down an
exception that allows a small number of so-called
‘downer’ cattle into the food supply if they pass
veterinary inspection,” explained Associated
Press writer Erica Werner. “Downer cows pose
increased risk for mad cow disease, E. coli and
other infections, partly because they typically
wallow in feces. They are already mostly banned
from slaughter [for human consumption], but
under current rules can be allowed if they fall
down after passing an initial veterinary
inspection, and then are re-inspected and pass
that second inspection, too. ”

“More changes could be on the way,”
added Reuters correspondent Christopher Doering.
“USDA inspector general Phyllis Fong is working
on a separate investigation into the treatment of
animals at slaughter plants, and the USDA is
still analyzing the results from its 60-day
Of the 34 million cattle sent to
slaughter in the U.S. in 2007, about 2,700 went
down and were reinspected, according to USDA
data. Fewer than 1,000 passed the reinspection.
“The review [of slaughtering protocol] was prompted by a 143-million-pound beef recall
in February 2008,” Werner recalled, “ordered
after the Humane Society of the United States
released undercover video showing employees
abusing downer cows at the Westland/Hallmark Meat
Company in Chino, California. Downer cows at
the plant were slaughtered without the required
second veterinary inspection.”
The USDA in April 2008 billed the now
closed Westland/Hallmark slaughterhouse for $67.2
million, about two-thirds of the federal expense
associated with the largest U.S. beef recall
ever. Most of the costs were incurred to buy
more than 50 million pounds of beef for the
National School Lunch Program, which then had to
be disposed of and replaced, said USDA
Agricultural Marketing Service deputy
administrator Craig Morris. The bill was
basically a formality before the tab was passed
to U.S. taxpayers.
Beef industry representatives had mixed
responses to the Westland/Hallmark case,
Schafer’s announcement, and the prospect of
further regulation of slaughter.
Attorney Bob Hibbert of the Washington
D.C. law firm K&L Gates warned in the May edition
of the trade journal MeatingPlace that as his
headline put it, “By failing to challenge USDA
on the massive Hallmark recall, the industry has
left the door open for similar situations in the
“This is not a food safety issue, but a
consumer perception issue,” wrote Troy Marshall
for Beef magazine, in partial agreement and
partial rebuttal, “and the modification of the
rules that would prohibit slaughter of all
disabled non-ambulatory cattle has widespread
industry support as a resultŠThis is expected to
impact less than three head in 1,000.
Personally, I’m amazed that the number could be
that high,” observed Marshall.
“The complaints directed toward the
industry on how we deal with our cull animals may
be justified in some instancesŠWhen it comes to
food safety,” Marshall added, “the issue has
never been about the majority, but rather that
one-in-10,000 or one-in-a-million event that can
cause irreparable harm.”
The American Meat Institute, National
Meat Association, and the National Milk
Producers Federation jointly announced on April
22, 2008 that they had petitioned the USDA to
enact a total ban on slaughtering downed cattle
for human consumption, after nearly 20 years of
opposing legislation that would have imposed such
a ban.
“We think that the time has come,”
National Meat Association spokesperson Jeremy
Russell told Werner. “We want to send a clear
message to consumers that we’re putting their
welfare and concerns ahead of the economics.”
The National Meat Association represents about
400 packers and processors.

More reforms needed

“A bright-line ban on processing downed
cattle was in place from January 2004 to July
2007,” as a precaution against slaughtering
animals who might be afflicted by mad cow
disease, HSUS senior vice president for
legislation Mike Markarian recalled, “until it
was inexplicably weakened.”
Assessed Markarian, “Further policy
reforms are needed. The rule should include not
just downed animals at the point of slaughter,
but also at auctions and markets. These
creatures should receive veterinary care or be
humanely euthanized without delay. And the
prohibition should apply not only to cattle, but
also to pigs and other livestock, who deserve
the same protections from abuse when they cannot
stand or walk. The Downed Animal and Food Safety
Protection Act,” the current version of federal
anti-downer legislation introduced repeatedly
since 1991, “would achieve these added
protections, if they are absent from USDA’s
“We also need more meaningful penalties
for facilities that slaughter downed animals,”
Markarian continued. “And we need basic animal
welfare standards for food purchased through the
National School Lunch Program and other federal
programs, to raise the bar in the marketplace
when our tax dollars are at work and our children
are at risk.”
Markarian mentioned video released by
HSUS on May 7, 2008 showing downed cows and a
calf who allegedly were neglected at auctions in
Maryland, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Texas.
“The problems are systemic, the laws and
regulations are inadequate, and the industry’s
resolve insufficient,” said HSUS president Wayne
Pacelle, who shared the videotaped findings with
Schafer five days before making them public.
Reported Farmed Animal Watch, “In
response to the video, the National Cattlemen’s
Beef Association said it has distributed over
2,000 cattle care and handling training videos to
the country’s 1,250 markets and other cattle
sales locations, and that it is conducting
hands-on staff training sessions at farmed animal
markets. The Livestock Marketing Association
said it is working on an animal handling
assessment/certification program for market
owners and employees.”

More violators exposed

Following the HSUS exposé of cruelty to
downed cattle at the Westland/Hallmark
slaughterhouse, two other National School Lunch
Program suppliers were cited by the USDA for
similar violations, Associated Press writer
Frederic J. Frommer revealed on April 30, 2008.
“Audits by the USDA Food Safety and
Inspection Service resulted in ‘noncompliance’
findings at a National Beef Packing Company plant
in Dodge City, Kansas, and a Cargill Meat
Solutions plant in Fresno, California, according
to information obtained under a Freedom of
Information Act request,” Frommer wrote. “The
audits of 18 slaughterhouses found that some
cattle were not stunned properly on the first
try, others were subject to overcrowding, and
others had to be electrically prodded to get them
to move.”
The Cargill violations were downgraded on
appeal from a finding of noncompliance to a
letter of concern, Frommer reported.
“The merits of their appeal were
acceptable,” USDA Food Safety and Inspection
Service spokesperson Amanda Eamich told Frommer.
“But she declined to provide any
specifics,” Frommer said. “Cargill spokesperson
Mark Klein also declined to discuss why the
noncompliance record was rescinded.”
Continued Frommer, “The USDA told
Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin) in a letter that
the audits found violations in four of the 18
slaughterhouses reviewed–including one serious
enough to lead to a temporary suspension–but
declined to identify the plants. Kohl, who
chairs the [U.S. Senate] Approp-riations
agriculture subcommittee, requested the audits
following the Westland/Hallmark violations.
“In addition to Cargill and National
Beef, the Food Safety Inspection Service
temporarily shut down Martin’s Abattoir &
Wholesale Meats, in Godwin, North Carol-ina,
for insufficiently stunning animals, failing to
make them insensible to pain on the first
attempt; and issued a noncompliance order to
Dakota Premium Foods in South St. Paul,
Minnesota, for excessive bunching of cattle
going into the stunning area,” Frommer wrote.
The Cargill noncompliance record cited
violation of a regulation stating that “driving
livestock from the holding pens to the stunning
area should be done with a minimum of excitement
and discomfort to the animals.”
Summarized Frommer, “Food Safety
Inspection Service officials said that in
reviewing 36 animals, virtually every one balked
at entering the restrainer, and to keep them
moving, an electric prod had to be used on 10 to
coax them along. Three still refused, even
after prodding, and had to be stunned and
rendered unconscious ‘so that they could be
pulled through the restrainer to be shackled,
hung, and bled,’ the noncompliance record
states. The record says that ‘a design flaw is
creating a situation where the animals may have
to be prodded excessively…'”
Cargill spokesperson Klein contended that
the cattle balked at the presence of the Food
Safety Inspection Service investigators, and
claimed that the prods used to move the cattle
did not have batteries.
“We use electric prods less and less,”
Klein told Frommer. “They still are in use, but
greatly restricted. Electric prods are frowned
This caused HSUS factory farming campaign
senior director Paul Shapiro to wonder why
Cargill would use electric prods without
batteries, especially if the cattle had not been
conditioned by prior shocking to recognize the
prodding devices.
National Joint Council of Food Inspection
Locals chair Stan Painter on April 17, 2008 told
the U.S. House of Represent-atives Oversight and
Government Reform domestic policy subcommittee
that USDA officials “tried to intimidate him and
other employees who reported violations of
regulations, an allegation denied by the
agency,” summarized Frommer of Painter’s
“Painter said that following a mad cow
disease scare in 2003, he told superiors that
new food safety regulations for slaughtered
cattle were not being uniformly enforced. Painter
said he was told to drop the matter, and when he
didn’t, was grilled by department officials and
then placed on disciplinary investigative
status,” Frommer continued.
This “caused a chilling effect on others
within my bargaining unit to come forward and
stand up when agency management is wrong,”
Painter said.
USDA undersecretary for food safety
Richard Raymond testified that in 2007 the USDA
suspended 66 plants, including 12
slaughterhouses, for inhumane animal handling
Texas AgriLife Extension meat specialist
Dan Hale told Beef freelance correspondent Larry
Stalcup that the 2007 National Market Cow and
Bull Beef Quality Audit of 23 slaughterhouses,
conducted from December 2006 to September 2007,
found that 63% of the cattle slaughtered had been
bruised in transport or handling, an improvement
from 1999, when 89% were bruised.
Maryland auction yard
The Maryland Department of Agriculture on
May 29, 2008 responded to HSUS video showing
alleged abuse of a downed cow at the Westminster
Livestock Auction Market by charging auction
market owner James E. Horak with four counts of
violating state animal health regulations, and
by strengthening the existing regulations to
require inspectors who tell a facility operator
how to handle a downer to confirm the next day
that the instructions have been followed.
“After investigating this matter, the
agency believes that the market was not prepared
to handle downer animals that night, and as a
result, a downer cow was not treated in a humane
manner,” Maryland agriculture secretary Roger
Richardson told David Dishneau of Associated
“Horak, of Hanover, Pennsylvania,
didn’t return a telephone call from Associated
Press,” Dishneau wrote. “He has until June 12
to respond to the charges. Penalties could
include suspension or revocation of Horak’s
operator’s license and possible criminal charges,
said state agriculture department spokeswoman Sue
Delivered to the auction in mid-afternoon
for evening sale, the Holstein cow in question
collapsed soon after she was unloaded. “Since
downer cows cannot be sold, Horak agreed to have
the animal rendered at the owner’s expense,
according to the charging document,” wrote
Dishneau. “Two of Horak’s workers, assisted by
market customers, then used a chain and a small
skid loader with a bucket to push and drag the
cow about 45 feet to a spot outside the auction
building, according to the document.”
This in itself, reported Dishneau,
“constitutes an inhumane act,” according to the
charging document.
Then, Dishneau continued, “Rather than
euthanize the cow or place her under a
veterinarian’s care, Horak left her outside
overnight, the department alleges. At about
10:15 a.m., HSUS investigators found the cow in
the same spot, without water, ‘in obvious
distress and discomfort,’ the charging document
states. They called a Carroll County Animal
Control officer who euthanized the animal, the
charging document states.”
“We did not consider the cow to be in
distress. I think I’m getting railroaded here
because of pressure from HSUS,” Horak told
Carrie Ann Knauer of the Carroll County Times,
in Westminster, Maryland.

California case

The extent of animal suffering at smaller
livestock sale and slaughter venues was meanwhile
illustrated at the opposite end of the U.S. in
early May when Santa Cruz County Animal Services
removed 12 goats, a sheep, a cow, and two
rabbits from the Toledo Harkins Slough Ranch in
Watsonville, and charged owner Efrain Toledo
“for having a non-ambulatory animal at a
slaughterhouse, failing to provide vet care,
and depriving an animal of food and water,”
reported Santa Cruz Sentinel staff writer
Jennifer Squires.
Many of the animals had respiratory
infections and were emaciated, Santa Cruz County
Animal Services supervisor Todd Stosuy told
Wrote Squires, “Stosuy, who initiated
the investigation, said he was unsure if the
animals’ ailments would pose a risk to humans
consuming meat products derived from the
livestock, but said some of the animals could
have died of malnutrition, hoof rot or blood
loss without intervention.”
Said Stosuy, “Even though these animals
were in line to be slaughtered, they need medical
attention, they need proper food and they need
proper care.”
Explained Squires, “The slaughterhouse,
which advertises through fliers around town,
apparently kills and dresses out livestock for
people who come to the facility and select an
animal. The meat is not individually packaged
for sale at local grocery stores.”
Hundreds of similar slaughterhouses
operate in rural communities and on the fringes
of cities, often serving ethnic communities,
unobserved by the USDA and often unknown to state
agencies because they do not sell meat across
state lines or at retail markets.

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