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Humane Society Sues USDA on Downer Cattle Loophole

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Humane Society of the United States has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in an attempt to close what it said is a dangerous loophole in the agency's regulations that contributed to the recent recall of more than 143 million pounds of beef.

The most recent high profile recall was initiated after an Humane Society investigation documented shocking acts of animal cruelty to non-ambulatory or "downer" cattle at a slaughterhouse in Chino, Calif.

"USDA has in recent weeks assured the public that sick and crippled cattle are not allowed to enter the food supply, but the agency's regulations actually contradict that assertion," said Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society president/c.e.o. "Unless we want yet another dramatic food scare -- further eroding consumer confidence in beef and costing the private sector and the federal government tens of millions of dollars -- we should not hesitate to close this legal loophole and establish an unambiguous no-downer policy that will also help protect crippled animals from egregious abuse."

On Thursday, Pacelle is scheduled to testify before a Senate subcommittee examining the issues surrounding the case; he will call on Congress to pass legislation to strengthen the nation's farm animal welfare laws.

Because downer cattle are at a heightened risk for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or "mad cow disease") and other foodborne pathogens, USDA issued an emergency rule in 2004 to prevent downed cattle from being slaughtered for human consumption. However, in 2007, the agency quietly relaxed its rules to permit some crippled cows to be slaughtered for human consumption.

The lawsuit alleges that the downer loophole is irrational and inconsistent with the USDA's obligations to ensure humane handling and food safety under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act. The suit also alleges that the loophole was promulgated in 2007 without adequate public notice and comment under the federal Administrative Procedure Act.
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