The USDA plans to ban all so-called "downer" cattle from the food supply to safeguard consumers from illnesses such as mad cow disease. Such animals are too weak or injured to walk, which can often be an indication of illness. Disturbing video of workers in a California slaughterhouse using electric prods and a fork lift on cattle unable to stand, which prompted the move, triggered the largest beef recall in US history.
Under current regulations, downer cattle are not supposed to enter the food supply, but exceptions are allowed if a veterinarian rules that the animal is not ill; that loophole would be closed by the rules change. "There should no longer be even a slim possibility of transporting a cow to market that is too weak to walk on its own," said the agriculture secretary. A full ban would also reduce the likelihood that weakened animals will be "subjected to inhumane handling at processing plants," he said.