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WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced a permanent prohibition on the slaughter of cattle that are unable to stand or walk ("downer" cattle) when presented for pre-slaughter inspection. The inability to stand or walk can be a clinical sign of bovine spongiform sncephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease.
Under the rule, cattle that are injured after they pass pre-slaughter inspection will be reevaluated to determine their eligibility for slaughter. Veal calves that can't stand because they're tired or cold may be set apart and held for treatment and re-inspection.
The rule, published in the July 13 Federal Register, makes permanent what had been an interim final rule prohibiting slaughter of non-ambulatory cattle in the United States. The final rule becomes effective Oct. 1, 2007.
"This final rule further strengthens our public health controls at slaughter plants across the United States," said USDA undersecretary for food safety Dr. Richard Raymond. "Less than three weeks after the December 2003 BSE detection in an imported cow, USDA moved quickly and decisively to put in place interim rules that greatly reduced the risk of human exposure. Experience has borne out that these interim steps were correct and should be made permanent."
On Jan. 12, 2004, FSIS issued a series of three interim final rules in response to the first BSE diagnosis on Dec. 23, 2003. Those rules had prohibited for human consumption non-ambulatory "downer" cattle and cattle tissue identified as specified risk materials (SRMs), banned the use of high-pressure stunning devices that could drive SRM tissue into the meat, and established requirements for Advanced Meat Recovery systems.
The rule requires that spinal cord must be removed from cattle 30 months of age and older at the place of slaughter. It also mandates that records must be maintained when beef products containing SRMs are moved from one federally inspected establishment to another for further processing.
Countries that have received the internationally recognized BSE status of "negligible risk" aren't required to remove SRMs because their system controls prevent the introduction and spread of BSE.
FSIS will conduct outreach sessions with industry to ensure that the provisions of the final rule are fully understood by all affected establishments.
Comments on the new information collection requirements must be received by Sept. 11, 2007. For further information contact Dr. Daniel Engeljohn, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Office of Policy, Program, and Employee Development, FSIS, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-3700, or call (202) 205-0495.