This Mad Cow Went to Market...

With a brush of (perhaps false) bravado, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Ann Veneman defiantly declared plans to serve beef at Christmas dinner, while admitting the presence of mad cow disease in the US. Meanwhile, more than 50 countries from Australia to Venezuela have banned imports of American beef.

The cavalier attitude with which USDA handled the situation is downright shocking, especially considering that the diseased cow's meat made it to market-the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that meat from one of the affected cows was likely consumed by a family in Mercer Island, Washington. Frighteningly, no one really knows how many Americans may have eaten beef from sick animals.

The disease eats holes in afflicted animals' brains, undoubtedly causing tremendous suffering. Mad cow is a human-caused malady created by intentionally turning cows-natural herbivores-into cannibalistic carnivores. In 1997, feeding parts of cattle, sheep, or other cud-chewing animals to cows was banned. But the US Food and Drug Administration publicly has admitted that the ban is not actively enforced and some feed distributors are unaware that it exists. Regardless, regulations do not prohibit feeding cows to pigs and chickens who, when rendered themselves, are then fed back to cows.

Sadly, in the immediate aftermath of the mad cow hysteria, hundreds of cows were slaughtered prematurely, their shortened lives completely wasted and their carcasses dumped in a landfill. There are wiser ways to ensure a safe food supply: follow Europe's lead and ban the feeding of all slaughterhouse waste to livestock; follow Japan's lead and test all cattle for the disease.

USDA is prohibiting "downer cows"-animals too sick or injured to walk-from entering the food supply (immobility is also a symptom of mad cow disease). This decision may spare tens of thousands of these sentient creatures from being brutally dragged to slaughter. USDA must also require that they be expeditiously and humanely euthanized, while extending the ban to other farm animals, including sheep and pigs.

We have long fought the inhumane transport and sale of downed animals, only to be shunned by a greedy livestock industry and a shortsighted, beholden USDA. We had it right all along. Downers don't belong in the food market, and we didn't need this incident to prove that simple fact.