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Ban on downers remains for now

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Feb 10, 2005
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U.S. agriculture secretary says ban on downer cows will remain for now

Canadian Press

June 30, 2005

WASHINGTON (AP) - The government put in place protections against the spread of mad cow disease after the first U.S. case. Some 18 months later, those safeguards still are temporary.

With confirmation of a second case of the brain-wasting disease, consumer groups are asking for a permanent ban to keep "downer" cattle - those unable to walk - from entering the food supply.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns chided the groups Thursday for suggesting that he might weaken the ban.

"That's really unfair. They really know better than that," Johanns told reporters. "No one has made a decision about the downer ban going away at all."

"People really have nothing to worry about," the former Nebraska governor added. "The downer ban is there. We haven't made a specific decision about the timeline, but it will be done very publicly."

The government issued a series of bans following the discovery of mad cow disease in a Washington state dairy cow in December 2003. The bans remain in effect and will not expire, but they have not become final and permanent.

They forbid the processing of downer cows and require the removal of brain, spinal column and other nerve tissue from cattle older than 30 months at slaughter.

Also banned is air-injection stunning to make cattle unconscious. This process has the potential to release contaminated brain matter into a cow's blood.

Many scientists believe that mad cow proteins stay in nervous tissue such as the brain and spinal cord. Scientists also believe meat from older cows presents more of a risk because infection levels rise with age.

The new case "demonstrates the need for a permanent ban on slaughtering animals too ill or injured to walk," said Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States.

The government last Friday confirmed a second case of mad cow disease. The Texas beef cow was thought to be a downer cow, but the officials said Thursday it actually was dead when it arrived at a pet food plant in Waco, Texas.

Johanns said during his confirmation hearing in January he would consider whether the ban on downers should be altered because it also applies to animals that are injured, perhaps with a broken leg, but are not diseased.

He said the department wants to study the results of its escalated levels of testing - about 1,000 cows a day - before making a decision.

"We don't want to prejudge what the final result will be; that's not good process," Johanns said Thursday. "There's a point here where we kind of get a handle on our surveillance, and then make a decision about whether that moves to a final rule."

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