DENVER -- The interest in downer cattle -- those not able to walk -- quickly became a focus of the Washington state mad cow disease case because the animal in question was non-ambulatory when it reached the slaughterhouse. Yet, government regulations at the time allowed the cow to be slaughtered and sent into the human food chain.
Mark Thomas, vice president, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Denver, said the industry supports the decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ban all downer cattle from entering the human food supply. However, he noted that not all downer animals are sick.
"I've lived in this industry so long that these cattle are second nature to me," he said. "There are a lot of downer cattle that are perfectly healthy, but might have suffered a broken joint or broken bone in transit."
USDA estimates that 130,000 head are classified downer cattle every year, and it's unfortunate the public perceives all of them as sick or ill, Thomas said.
"When these situations arise, though, it puts everything on the table for a valid discussion," he noted. "We support [the new ban] out of an abundance of caution, and also from a perception standpoint."
One area the industry wants clarified by government officials is how the rejected cattle should be treated in regards to monitoring the health of the overall herd.
"We have to figure out how we can keep a certain percentage of them under surveillance so that we can monitor the herd health in total," Thomas said.
This would be in addition to the random testing that is already conducted on animals approved for slaughter.
"A certain percentage of animals going to slaughter -- not downers -- will still be tested" under USDA's updated plan, he said. "We support and encourage that."