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AMI Statement: Non-Ambulatory Livestock or "Downers" in the Meat Supply

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

(Attribute Statement to AMI Foundation President James H. Hodges)

A small percentage of the cattle that arrive for processing at meat plants are non-ambulatory or become non-ambulatory during transportation. Cattle can become non-ambulatory for a variety of reasons: injury like a broken bone, heat stress (from which animals typically recover when given a chance to rest), illness and other factors. Federal veterinarians appropriately examine all livestock before they are processed to determine whether they are fit for human consumption.

A very small percentage of animals are deemed “suspect” by USDA veterinarians for neurological disorders, including BSE. When animals are neurologically suspect, brain samples are taken and the animal is condemned, meaning it does not enter the food supply.

Any time an animal or product is tested -- even routine monitoring -- the American Meat Institute advises its members to hold the carcass until results are completed. Holding carcasses or product pending test results is routine practice in the meat industry. It is unfortunate that the plant that processed the cow at issue in Washington State released the carcass, but we are confident that beef from the cow is safe because the infectious agent is not contained in muscle cuts like steaks and ground beef. However, we also recognize that the recall USDA is now conducting out of an abundance of caution is disconcerting to consumers.

Earlier this year, legislation that would require euthanization of non-ambulatory animals arriving at meat plants -- no matter what the cause -- was rejected by Congress. AMI, along with many other organizations, opposed this legislation because it would have hampered the U.S. surveillance system for BSE. Indeed, had this law been in effect, it is unlikely that BSE would have been detected in the cow at issue in Washington State because surveillance occurs at the plant level - not on the farm.

Numerous organizations - including animal rights groups that seek a vegetarian society -- are calling for a prohibition on non-ambulatory livestock in the meat supply. While this may “sound good,” such a prohibition is not supported by science, would be a waste of perfectly safe beef and would indeed be counter-productive to USDA's BSE surveillance. Federal veterinarians should be permitted to exercise their expert judgment in assessing what animals are and are not fit for consumption and the meat industry will cooperate fully as those determinations are made.

For more information contact:
Dan Murphy
Vice President, Public Affairs
Janet Riley
Sr. VP, Public Affairs

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