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Congress Seeks Ban on Downer Animals

Congress Seeks Ban on Downer Animals
WASHINGTON - Consumer and animal-health groups, working with some members of the U.S. House of Representatives, on Wednesday will renew their call for broad prohibitions on \"downer\" animals entering the food chain.

Following the Dec. 23 discovery of the first U.S. case of mad cow disease, the groups are hoping for additional momentum for legislation that would ban the use of all downer animals, including cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and horses.

USDA recently banned downer cattle -- those that arrive at slaughterhouses unable to walk -- from being processed into meat. The ban represented a reversal for the USDA and for the U.S. cattle industry and was in reaction to the lone case of mad cow found in a Washington state Holstein. That animal was a downer, but its meat was shipped off to grocery stores.

Rep. Gary Ackerman, a New York Democrat, last year nearly won passage of a bill that would have banned the processing of all downer animals.

Jordan Goldes, a spokesman for Ackerman, said that with the recent discovery of mad cow disease in the United States, the congressman will try again to win passage of a bill that he will unveil to reporters on Wednesday.

Animals other than cattle do not contract mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, a fatal brain-wasting disease that has been linked to about 140 human deaths, mostly in Europe.

But swine, for example, could be suffering from other illnesses if they could not walk, such as pneumonia or diarrhea, according to veterinarians.

U.S. meat industry groups say additional controls on downer animals should include strict definitions of such animals.

\"The definition of a downer in the original description (of legislation) was saying any animal that lies down. We would have tremendous problems with that,\" said Kara Flynn, spokeswoman for the National Pork Producers Council.

Flynn said that healthy swine often hesitate when they are being moved from trucks to packing plants because of fear and being unaccustomed to new surroundings after a life on the farm.

David Meisinger, a veterinarian and vice president for the National Pork Board, which promotes the meat, said the industry opposes allowing on-farm swine with broken legs to enter the food chain. But he said packers decide whether they want to accept swine injured during transport from the farm.

Dr. Jeff Tyler, at the University of Missouri\'s college of veterinary medicine, said that unlike cattle, broken legs are the most common reason swine become downer animals.

\"Cattle are easier to transport ... they respond better to being moved\" because they spend their lives moving from facility to facility. Swine, which stay in restricted areas on farms their whole lives, balk at being in new environments, he said.

Story by Richard Cowan

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