Measure would also improve humane treatment of sick and injured livestock
Congressman makes plea after Supreme Court blocks similar law in California
U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) today renewed his call for Congress to pass the Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act, legislation he introduced last month that would better protect America's food supply from deadly illnesses such as mad cow disease, and ensure the humane treatment of sick and injured animals.
Ackerman made the plea in the wake of this week's Supreme Court decision which overturned a strikingly similar version of the measure that the State of California enacted into law in 2009.
The Congressman's legislation (H.R. 3704), presently pending before the House Agriculture Committee, would permanently prohibit all downed animals -- unhealthy livestock unable walk because they are diseased, injured or ill -- from entering the nation's food chain, and require that these animals be humanely euthanized.
Seventy-two percent of the confirmed cases of mad cow disease in North America since 1993 have involved downed animals.
"The Supreme Court's ruling has upped the ante on our bill," said Ackerman. "By removing the ability of states protect our food supply and prevent sick and wounded animals from being humanely euthanized, the high Court has made our bill the only measure to combat this type of threat to public safety. It's time for Congress to finally pass this bill."
Ackerman has introduced the Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act for 20 years but the legislation always fell on deaf ears until 2003, when the first confirmed case of mad cow disease in the United States prompted the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to impose a loose version of the Congressman's measure. It was then expanded in 2009, when the USDA banned the slaughtering of downed cattle and mandated that these animals be euthanized, after a California slaughter plant allowed downers to enter the food supply. This resulted in the largest meat recall in American history (which prompted California to adopt its own downed animal law.)
Ackerman's bill would improve the existing regulations by making the ban on downer cattle permanent. Under current law, the USDA can loosen or repeal their rules at any time. The Congressman's measure would also extend the ban to all livestock, not just cattle.
In an effort to secure Congress' approval of the legislation, Ackerman and Rep. Peter King (R-NY), the lead cosponsor of the bill, have begun to circulate a letter to their Congressional colleagues, in particular the California delegation, urging them to support the measure. The text of the letter is below.
The bipartisan bill is already supported by several Members of Congress including Representatives Jim Moran (D-VA), Michael Grimm (R-NY), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), George Miller (D-CA), Nita Lowey (D-NY), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Michael Michaud (D-ME), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and John Olver (D-MA).
In its decision on Monday, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that federal slaughterhouse law precludes California's statute. The case was National Meat Association v. Harris.
The following is Ackerman and King's letter:
Supreme Court Overturns California Law Banning Slaughter of Downed Animals
ACT NOW TO KEEP UNHEALTHY LIVESTOCK OUT OF OUR NATION'S FOOD SUPPLY!
Become a cosponsor of H.R. 3704, the Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act
Current cosponsors (14): Blumenauer, Bordallo, Farr, Grimm, Jackson Lee, King (NY), Kucinich, Lowey, Michaud, George Miller, Moran, Olver, Schakowsky, Slaughter
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down provisions of a California law that would have required downed animals (sick, diseased, or injured livestock incapable of supporting their own body weight) to be immediately and humanely euthanized, and would have prohibited the meat from such animals from being used for human consumption. The Court held that federal law precludes a state from imposing any rules on how downer animals are handled, both in terms of food safety and animal welfare.
With the Court's decision to eliminate state action on downed animals, Congress must take action now.Please join us in cosponsoring H.R. 3704, the Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act, which would prevent downed animal meat from entering the food supply, and would require that these downed animals be humanely euthanized.
Downed cattle are 50 times more likely to have mad cow disease (also known as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or BSE) than ambulatory cattle which are suspected of having BSE. In fact, 72% of the cases of confirmed BSE-positive animals in North America since 1993 have involved downed animals. Other downed livestock -- including downed pigs -- are also more likely to suffer from a variety of health problems than are ambulatory animals.
In 2008, revelations that a California slaughter plant had permitted downed cattle to enter the food supply resulted in the largest meat recall in U.S. history. In response, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) amended federal meat inspection regulations to ban the slaughtering of downed cattle for human consumption and to require that these animals be humanely euthanized. The USDA ban, which went into effect on April 17, 2009, is not only humane, but is also good and sound science. Unfortunately, the current regulation contains a loophole that exempts downed calves. H.R. 3704 would effectively close this calf loophole; make permanent the USDA's ban on downer cattle; and extend the ban to all downed livestock, ensuring that unhealthy, high-risk, downed animals never enter our food supply.
No American should have to worry about BSE-positive animals contaminating the food they eat. A single infected animal processed for human food would do lasting damage to consumer confidence while also putting American consumers in grave danger. When humans consume BSE-positive meat, they risk contracting variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal degenerative brain disease with no known cure.
From an industry perspective, we have already seen how a single BSE-positive animal can devastate our exports. Following the December 2003 discovery of a BSE-positive cow in a U.S. cattle herd, more than 50 countries announced bans on U.S. beef imports, including the top three importers of American beef -- Japan, Mexico, and South Korea -- who together bought nearly three-quarters of our total beef exports. Over the next few years, the U.S. beef industry lost $11 billion because of one BSE-positive cow. There is simply no need to further jeopardize a multi-billion dollar industry by attempting to wring a few thousand dollars out of a relatively small number of at-risk animals.
Furthermore, downer livestock simply cannot be handled humanely, and should be euthanized. The humane rationale alone justifies the policy; however, taking into account the trade and public health implications, the case is overwhelming.
In the last two years, two additional BSE cases have been confirmed in North America.We must act now to prevent contaminated meat from making its way to supermarkets, restaurants, and butcher counters across the country.
Gary L. Ackerman Peter T. King
Member of Congress Member of Congress