Plants Closure Raises New Health Concerns

US - An investigation into the mistreatment of "downer cows" at a Californian meat processing plant conducted by the animal rights action group, Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), prompted the plant's closure and the largest meat recall in US history. But now another problem has emerged.
calendar icon 10 March 2008
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According to the Buffalo news, the video also has focused new light on a practice that some animal welfare and food safety experts contend is an old problem: the use in beef production of dairy cows that are spent and barely able to stand, due to calcium depletion from being milked intensively for years.

“Now that the public has seen this Humane Society footage, it’s horrific but it’s not exceptional,” said Keith Mohler, a Humane Society officer in Pennsylvania who has led prosecutions in farm animal mistreatment cases. “It’s great that it was brought out, but it’s not uncommon.”

Dairy cows that are done giving milk have been a consistent supply source in American ground beef production. They make up about 17 percent of the annual beef slaughter, according to the Humane Society of the United States, which videotaped the cow abuses at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co. in Chino, Calif.

Prices for “culled” dairy cows can be half to about a tenth of the price of a fully fed steer in the beef market. The reason for the discount is that some dairy cows go to slaughter plants in rough shape. Typically, they have often been milked for several years, leaving their bodies without the muscle, fat and calcium of grazing, well-fed beef cattle. Some dairy cows appear emaciated when they are sold to slaughter plants, their hides stretched tight over their hindquarters and ribs.

Dairy cows can also carry some common maladies, including mastitis, a bacterial infection of the udder; foot rot, which they can develop standing for long periods in manure, mud and damp straw; and Johne’s disease.

Scientists believe these diseases are not carried into the human food chain, with one exception: Health and animal scientists are currently debating whether the traits of Johne’s are responsible for Chron’s disease in humans. Chron’s disease is an intestinal disorder that can cause inflammation of the colon, severe abdominal pain, diarrhea and weight loss. Some argue it’s these very problems that prompt farmers to dispatch the cows to the slaughterhouse in the first place.

“Farmers are obviously not culling dairy cows just because they aren’t making a lot of milk,” said Michael Collins of the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, an expert on Johne’s disease. “Almost by definition, there’s something wrong with them, and in some cases those can be infections that present issues for humans.”

  • View the Buffalo News story by clicking here.

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