- WASHINGTON -- Legislation
to keep meat from downed animals off American kitchen tables was scuttled
- for the second time in as many years - as Congress labored unsuccessfully
earlier this month to pass a catchall agency spending bill.
- Now, in the wake of the apparent discovery of the first
mad-cow case in the United States, the author of the House version of the
cattle provision wants to press the issue anew when Congress returns Jan.
20 from its winter recess. The massive, $373 billion spending bill covering
several government agencies is still pending in the Senate.
- "I said on the floor of the House that you will
rue the day that because of the greed of the industry to make a few extra
pennies from 130,000 head, the industry would sacrifice the safety of the
American people," said Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., chief House sponsor.
"It's so pound foolish."
- The provision dealing with downed cattle didn't even
make it into the compromise version of the legislation that House and Senate
conferees brought before Congress late in the year.
- The Agriculture Department estimates that 130,000 downed
animals that are too injured or sick to stand or walk unassisted are slaughtered
every year. About 36 million cows are slaughtered each year in the United
- The provision, which started through the legislative
process as an amendment to an agriculture spending bill, would have effectively
prohibited the sale of livestock too sick or injured to stand or walk unassisted.
- The agricultural spending bill passed - with the provision
intact - on a Senate voice vote in November after failing by three votes
in the House in July. But congressional negotiators did not include it
in the broader, $373 billion omnibus spending bill that passed the House
this month and which is still awaiting a vote in the Senate.
- Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., a negotiator who voted
for the measure in the House, said Democratic negotiators never had a chance
to fight for the proposal.
- "The Republicans, the leadership, shut off the conference,
they closed it down, and this is one of a number of provisions which were
handled in a backroom deal without the Democrats there and with only the
Republican leadership," said Hinchey.
- Lawmakers and congressional aides said they consider
it very unlikely that Congress would reopen the multibillion-dollar bill
to deal with the issue. "I can't imagine that it would be," Rep.
Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, an opponent of the measure, said.
- A day after the government announced the first apparent
case of mad cow disease in the United States - in a downed animal - lawmakers
and interest groups on both sides of the issue said they had been vindicated.
- The Humane Society of the United States has warned repeatedly
that if the meat from a lone cow with the brain-wasting disease found its
way into the food supply, other countries would cut off U.S. beef imports
and consumer confidence would be shaken. "We are already seeing that
play out," said Humane Society Vice President Wayne Pacelle. Japan,
Taiwan and Mexico, the three largest importers, banned U.S. beef.
- But opponents of the legislation said USDA inspectors
might never have discovered the apparent presence of the disease, formally
known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, had Ackerman's legislation been
- Banning the sale of downed animals would prevent USDA
inspectors from detecting possible cases because the animals would never
reach the slaughterhouse for inspection, they said.
- "The fact that it was caught is the significant
thing for the consumer," said Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Texas, the
senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee. Stenholm has argued
that federal inspectors are in the best position to keep sick animals,
as opposed to those that can't walk but are otherwise healthy, out of the
- Agriculture officials also have insisted that the food
supply is safe because the animal parts most at risk of carrying the disease,
the brain and spinal column, had been removed. "Muscle cuts of meat
have almost no risk," Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said.
- In the House, most Republicans as well as conservative
and farm-state Democrats opposed the measure.
- Both chambers passed similar provisions in their versions
of the 2002 farm bill, but negotiators stripped the measure from the final
version of that bill.
- In both years, the National Milk Producers Federation
lobbied successfully against the provision.
- "If you don't allow movement off the farm, then
you miss the opportunity to diagnose the problem," said Chris Galen,
spokesman for the federation.