Header graphic for print
Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Announces Final Rule for Handling of Non-Ambulatory Cattle – The Final “Downer Ban”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today (Saturday) announced a final rule to amend the federal meat inspection regulations to require a complete ban on the slaughter of cattle that become non-ambulatory disabled after passing initial inspection by Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspection program personnel.

The final rule amends the federal meat inspection regulations to require that all cattle that are non-ambulatory disabled ("downer") cattle at any time prior to slaughter at an official establishment, including those that become non-ambulatory disabled after passing ante-mortem inspection, be condemned and properly disposed of according to FSIS regulations. Additionally, the final rule requires that establishments notify inspection program personnel when cattle become non-ambulatory disabled after passing the ante-mortem, or pre-slaughter, inspection. The rule will enhance consumer confidence in the food supply and improve the humane handling of cattle.

Funny thing, I thought this happened in 2008 – or should have.  See, AGRICULTURE SECRETARY ED SCHAFER ANNOUNCES PLAN TO END EXCEPTIONS TO ANIMAL HANDLING RULE and USDA ANNOUNCES PROPOSED RULE FOR REQUIREMENTS OF THE DISPOSITION OF DOWNER CATTLE.  Likely, these were the announcements of the "proposed rule."  Hmmm, interesting that the final rule comes out on the day the President makes his first food safety speech – intersection of PR and politics.

Perhaps as no surprise, I have been blogging about downers for a long time.  In December 2003, I wrote:

As I said in a recent op-ed "What to do about the "Mad Cow," our tables, and the entire food industry, can be protected by five available and simple decisions that will help promote food safety – one, track animals from the farm to your fork; two, test for food borne pathogens; three, reconsider the use of "downer cattle;" four, give the USDA absolute authority to recall meat that may pose a risk to the public health; and, five, stop feeding animals (especially those at risk of harboring disease) to other animals.

In 2008, I penned "Abusing Downer Cows and Feeding Them to Our Kids – It is All About Making a Buck," after the Hallmark/Wesland recall of 143,000,000 pounds of meat.  A month later I wrote "Should ALL "Downers" be banned from the food supply?" A few days later "The Raw Economics Driving the Use of Downers." 

Bottom line – the final downer ban was long past due.  It is good to see when good PR, smart politics, smart economics and smart food safety come together.

  • Pete Snyder

    This is fine to ban downer cows to appease the animal rights people. But we must be careful not to claim that this make the meat supply safer. There is no study that I have seen that shows a correlation between downer cows and high levels of food pathogens. Healthy cows and downers have the same pathogen contamination as far as I know. This ban is a waste of time if our goal is less E coli in meat and protect public health. People are not washing their hands and using a thermometer to control the cooking, hot holding, cooling and leftovers. The president and his wife need to go on tv and show the people how they use a thermometer to cook a hamburger and how they wash their hands before they prepare food in their little White House kitchen.

  • Just got this email from someone with the “411” on the 2008 press releases on the downer ban:
    Was only Proposed in 2008, had to go thru rule-making process. Proposed 1st, public comments, then Final Rule that has to be approved and published.