The recent YouTube video is certainly shocking, but nothing new – we have simply not been paying attention.
Schools are scrambling to pull downer meat off the menu because cows are being abused, and even Agricultural Secretary Ed Schafers issues a statement on downer cow brutality:
"I am deeply concerned about the allegations made regarding inhumane handling of non-ambulatory disabled cattle in a federally inspected slaughter establishment…. We are confident in our inspection system and the food safety regulations that ensure the safety and wholesomeness of the food supply. Among the federal safeguards in place, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) prohibits non-ambulatory disabled cattle and cattle tissue identified as specified risk materials for use in human food.
Oh really? But, then no one is talking about the USDA study published in August 2004 that found that downer cows had three times more E. coli O15:H7 than other cows, or the 1985 study linking chloramphenicol-resistant Salmonella newport traced through hamburger to dairy farms. We worry about abused cows, or dogs and cats being poisoned by the Chinese, but do we worry about feeding cow shit to our kids?
I knew this all sounded a bit too familiar. KIRO TV in Seattle covered this same story in 2002 and 2003 (nasty video’s too) – “Downer Industry Thrives Despite Consumers’ Concerns,” and Elizabeth Weise of USA TODAY broke the same story in 2004 – “Ban on ‘downers’ could change way cattle are raised” – The bottom line is that it is all about money. As Ms. Weise reported:
Chandler Keys of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association says the 150,000 to 200,000 downers a year are a fraction of the 35 million U.S. cattle slaughtered each year…. An estimated 3% to 4% of beef cattle are downers. But research in Wisconsin and Minnesota in 2003 found 23% of dairy cattle were lame. Dairy cattle are more likely to become downers in part because they live longer…. Beef cattle are slaughtered in their prime.
Downers banned – do not bet on it. A 2006 audit (PDF) by the USDA’s inspector general found downer cows were still being processed for food and that USDA’s policy was inconsistent. At two of 12 plants visited from June 2004 to April 2005, downer cattle were slaughtered for food. One facility processed 27 of them, the other slaughtered two.
So, here is the real deal: A downer cow typically brings $250 to $300 at slaughter. Sending the same animal to a rendering plant costs the owner $20 to $50 per carcass. Do the math.
One other question – where do raw milk cows go?