(NaturalNews) The Humane Society of the United States has filed a lawsuit against the federal government over a 2007 rule change by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that allows certain downer cattle to enter the food supply.
Downer cattle are those too sick or injured to stand, and they have substantially higher risk of possessing the fatal, incurable neurological disorder known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease. In 2004, after a cow infected with BSE was discovered in Washington State, the USDA passed new rules prohibiting the slaughter of any downer cattle.
In July 2007, the USDA relaxed this regulation to allow the slaughter of cows that fall down after their initial veterinary inspection, if those cows appear to be otherwise healthy.
But according to USDA documents, even apparently healthy cows that cannot stand due to a broken limb are 50 times more likely to have mad cow disease than animals that can stand on their own.
Mad cow disease causes a weakening of infected animals' muscles, making them more likely to fall and injure themselves.
Citing these documents and recent undercover investigations that showed slaughterhouse workers dragging sick and crippled cows with chains, shoving them with forklifts, or harassing them with electric prods or hoses to get them to stand, the Humane Society lawsuit seeks to force the USDA to close this loophole.
"Because of the regulatory loophole, the meat industry has an economic incentive to use whatever means are necessary to force downed cattle to stand and walk, even if only for this brief period of time," the lawsuit says.
After the Human Society released its undercover video footage from a Westland/Hallmark slaughterhouse in Chino, Calif., the USDA issued the biggest beef recall in U.S. history, 143 million pounds. The slaughterhouse has since shut down.