Downer cattle banned from food supply

Thursday - 3/19/2009, 8:14am EDT

WFED's Tom Temin

As heard on sister-station WTOP

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By Tom Temin
FederalNewsRadio

From tainted peppers to poisonous peanut butter - there's been a lot of food scares over the past year. And now, the Department of Agriculture is taking action to prevent meat from sick cattle making it into the food supply.

Q: What is the USDA doing to help the meat supply?

A: The agency took a simple step this week and issued a new rule for cattle processors. The rule says that they simply may not slaughter what are called downer, or disabled, cattle for food. Instead, the new rule says downer cattle must be condemned, killed humanely, and disposed of separately. The Obama administration is hoping the new rule will garner more confidence in the food supply, and result in more humane treatment of the animals.

Q: How did this all work before?

A: Under the old rule, cattle that fell after inspection could still be used. This was decided on a case-by-case basis, so some downers were stood up and used for food. Now, no injured or sick animal can become food under any circumstances. The new rule also saves valuable time for federal inspectors, who did the pre-slaughter inspections of questionable animals.

So now, when you put that steak or burger on the grill, you should be able to have confidence that the animal the meat came from was healthy before it headed into the food chain.

But--you still have to cook it thoroughly!

For more information, see the final rule from the USDA on the Federal Register: Requirements for the Disposition of Cattle that Become Non- Ambulatory Disabled Following Ante-Mortem Inspection

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