Cattle too sick or injured to walk will no longer be allowed to enter U. S. slaughterhouses, the Agriculture Department said in a rule finalized March 14, nearly a year after the largest meat recall in American history spurred the change.
The USDA proposed a total ban on all “downer” cattle from being slaughtered in May 2008, three months after a video showed workers at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing plant in California forcing sick and injured cattle into a slaughterhouse.
A few weeks after the video was released, Hallmark recalled 143 million pounds of meat, the largest U. S. meat recall ever.
“This rule is designed to enhance consumer confidence and humane handling standards and will provide clear guidance that non-ambulatory cattle will not be allowed to enter the human food supply,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.
“It is a step forward for both food safety and the standards for humane treatment of animals.”
In the past, most downer cattle were banned, but USDA allowed the slaughter of some animals that became too injured to move after they were inspected. Packers were required to alert USDA veterinarians in those cases so the cattle could be reinspected before they were slaughtered for food.
The new rule would block these animals from entering the food supply. Instead, they would be marked “U. S. condemned” and the packer must notify USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service if cattle become disabled after passing an earlier inspection.