U.S. Humane Society Sues to Close Mad Cow Rule Loophole

The Humane Society of the United States has filed suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture to close what it describes as a dangerous loophole in the agency's regulations that has contributed to the recent recall of more than 143 million pounds of beef--much of which was fed to schoolchildren in at least 40 states and the District of Columbia.

The recall was initiated after an HSUS investigation documented acts of animal cruelty to non-ambulatory or "downer" cattle at a slaughterhouse in Chino, Calif.

"USDA has in recent weeks assured the public that sick and crippled cattle are not allowed to enter the food supply, but the agency's regulations actually contradict that assertion," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. "Unless we want yet another dramatic food scare--further eroding consumer confidence in beef and costing the private sector and the federal government tens of millions of dollars--we should not hesitate to close this legal loophole and establish an unambiguous no-downer policy that will also help protect crippled animals from egregious abuse."

On Feb.28, Pacelle testified before a Senate subcommittee examining the issues surrounding the case, calling on Congress to pass legislation to strengthen the nation's farm animal welfare laws.

According to the Humane Society, USDA issued an emergency rule in 2004 to prevent downed cattle from being slaughtered for human consumption because downer cattle are at a heightened risk for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or "mad cow disease") and other foodborne pathogens. However, in 2007, the agency quietly reversed course and relaxed its rules to permit some crippled cows to be slaughtered for human consumption.

The Humane Society argues that loophole fails to adequately prevent the slaughter of animals who are violently forced onto their feet long enough to pass inspection, as well some animals who go down after initial inspection.

The lawsuit alleges that the downer loophole is irrational and inconsistent with the USDA's obligations to ensure humane handling and food safety under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act. The suit also alleges that the loophole was promulgated in 2007 without adequate public notice and comment under the federal Administrative Procedure Act.

"The school lunch program should be providing safe and healthy meals for our children--not serving up sick animals or promoting animal cruelty," said Diana Crossman, a longtime HSUS member and mother of two children in Los Angeles County public school. "USDA is supposed to protect our children, and that doesn't mean telling us one thing and doing something else about allowing sick animals in the food supply."

To view Pacelle's testimony, go to www.hsus.org/web-files/PDF/farm/hsus-testimony-senate-ag-approps-hearing-2-28-08.pdf. To read the complaint filed, go to www.hsus.org/web-files/PDF/farm/hsus-v-schafer-usda-complaint.pdf.

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