U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Queens/L.I.) today announced that he has reintroduced legislation to better protect America's food supply from deadly illnesses such as mad cow disease while ensuring the humane treatment of sick and injured animals.
Entitled the Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act (H.R. 3704), the bipartisan bill would permanently prohibit all downed animals -- unhealthily livestock that cannot walk because they are diseased, injured or ill -- from entering the nation's food chain, and require that these animals be humanely euthanized.
Of the twenty confirmed cases of mad cow disease in North America since 1993, at least sixteen have involved downer cattle.
Ackerman has long introduced the Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act but the legislation was largely ignored until 2003, when the first confirmed case of mad cow disease in the U.S. prompted the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to impose a loose and temporary version of Ackerman'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.
Ackerman's bill would improve these 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 apply the ban to all livestock --not just cattle -- and close an existing loophole that permits the slaughter of downed calves.
The bill is already supported by several Members of Congress including Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who is the lead cosponsor of the bill.
"This legislation is essential to ensuring Americans that our nation is doing all it can to safeguard the country's food supply," said Ackerman. "Americans should not have to worry whether the food they eat is from sick or diseased livestock and we cannot allow consumer confidence in the beef industry to ever be compromised again. Animals that are ill or injured should be humanely euthanized instead of being dragged through slaughterhouses then sold to restaurants, supermarkets or butchers for human consumption, a sick and disgusting practice."
"It's time to stop the abuse of downed animals too sickly and weak to stand on their own," said Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. "It's inhumane to move animals in this condition through the slaughter process, and meat from them may taint the food supply and put consumers at risk. We thank Representatives Ackerman and King for their leadership on this important bill to remove the financial incentives that encourage this cruel and reckless practice."
Downed cattle are 50 times more likely to have mad cow disease (also known as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or BSE) than ambulatory cattle that are suspected of having BSE. When humans consume BSE-positive meat, they risk contracting variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal degenerative brain disease with no known cure.
Other cosponsors of the legislation include 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) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).
Ackerman's measure has been referred to the House Committee on Agriculture, where it is presently pending.