House-passed ban on trade in disabled livestock worries industry

October 13, 2001 The Associated Press by Philip Brasher

WASHINGTON - Injured cattle are being spared a trip to the slaughterhouse. McDonald's and other hamburger chains no longer will buy beef from cattle unable to walk. Neither will the government, which supplies meat to schools.

Now, legislation approved by the House would ban all stockyards and auction houses from buying livestock that are too injured or ill to walk. The measure is intended to force farmers and ranchers to kill the animals instead of taking them to market.

"Our concern was the movement of animals that are downed," said Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States. "They're being dragged, chained and pulled, pushed with bulldozers. They're languishing in an injured condition without relief."

Such animals are typically old dairy cows, slaughtered for hamburger meat.

A department investigation in the early 1990s found disabled animals in 66 out of 1,415 stockyards the department inspected.

Producers and meatpackers deny that livestock are being mistreated and say that the restrictions could result in an illegal trade in injured animals.

Also, some animal health experts worry the ban would lessen monitoring of livestock illnesses because veterinarians would see fewer sick or injured animals. Many auction markets have veterinarians on hand to check questionable livestock.

"If there is nothing that can be done with those animals we're going to lose a great deal of information," said William Hueston, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Animal Health and Food Safety and an expert on mad-cow disease. "We're going to lose our ability to identify emerging diseases... early in their course."

The prohibition on trading disabled livestock was added by voice vote to a bill that revises federal farm and nutrition programs. The ban would not apply to slaughter plants. The Senate has yet to write its version of the legislation.

Many meatpackers already refuse to slaughter such livestock because they cannot be sold to major fast-food chains or to the government, industry officials say. Last year, the Agriculture Department banned such meat from its purchases for the school-lunch program.

Industry officials say that disabled animals are not slaughtered for food if they pose any health risk. To make sure that is the case, department inspectors are supposed to check livestock for signs of disease as the animals enter slaughterhouses.

Cattle with evidence of neurological problems are tested for mad cow disease. Mad cow, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is linked to a fatal illness in humans.

The Livestock Marketing Association, which represents auction houses, says the vast majority of their members will not buy animals unable to walk but has opposed a ban on such sales.

"If this amendment is successful in staying in the farm bill, producer groups, especially in the dairy industry, may have to finally take responsibility for this issue and clean up their act," said John McBride, a spokesman for the group.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, which represent beef producers, has a policy against the sale of disabled cattle but is concerned about a federal ban. For one thing, restrictions on burying and burning dead animals make it difficult for ranchers to dispose of carcasses, the group says. Rendering plants, which used to buy carcasses for processing into animal feed and other products, now charge for the service.

The cattle industry has struggled with what to do about such livestock, said Bryan Dierlam, a lobbyist for producers group. "It's a bumper sticker issue, but unfortunately there are no bumper sticker solutions."

Information on the bill, H.R. 2646, is available at
USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service:
Humane Society of the United States:

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