Congress is considering legislation permanently banning nonambulatory animals from the human food supply.
The Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act, introduced in the House by Gary Ackerman of New York and in the Senate by Daniel Akaka in late January, would require the immediate euthanasia of livestock unable to walk.
Animals unable to move may be tested for bovine spongiform encephalopathy and other diseases. Legislators see the law as a means of preventing animal suffering and protecting public health.
Soon after BSE was confirmed for the first time in the United States in 2003, the Department of Agriculture temporarily banned processing nonambulatory cattle. The Ackerman-Akaka bill would make that temporary measure permanent and also apply to sheep, swine, and goats, and to horses, mules, and other equids that cannot walk or stand unassisted.
The legislation has the backing of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and a number of other animal and public interest groups.
The AVMA does not support the downed animal legislation because it fails to make an exception for swine at terminal markets, however. According to a provision in the AVMA policy on disabled livestock: "If swine are down, and are not in extreme distress or do not have an obviously irreversible condition, they must be allowed up to two hours to recover."