Although most U.S. citizens are opposed to the slaughter of animals too sick or weak to even stand for human consumption, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) currently allows this deplorable practice to continue. As a result, many farm animals are forced to endure immense suffering across the country.

These debilitated animals, known as “downers,” can languish for days without veterinary care or anyone to see to their most basic needs. Frequently subjected to extreme cruelty, they are prodded, kicked and beaten in attempts to get them to slaughter. As a whole, the factory farming industry treats these suffering animals as mere commodities, ignoring their plight as well as the increased risk to human health associated with consuming their flesh. It’s all to make a quick profit.

Since 1986, Farm Sanctuary has been advocating through our No Downers Campaign to end these inexcusable practices, and important progress has been made – including passage of the first state law to protect downed animals at stockyards and slaughterhouses in California in 1995. Several other states have followed suit.

On a national level, the discovery of mad cow disease in a downed cow in the state of Washington in 2003 prompted the USDA to approve a stop gap policy against slaughtering downed cattle for human consumption. It would take the agency until 2009, however, to properly enforce this policy and remove loopholes that still allowed downer cows to end up on consumers’ plates. Today, the USDA’s “no downer” policy remains limited to cattle, allowing the slaughter of downed calves, pigs, sheep, and goats for human food to continue. Sadly, nearly 1 million farm animals, most of whom are pigs, are downed in U.S. slaughterhouses each year.

Representatives from the meat industry assert that the practice of using these downed animals for food should continue, saying that it poses no risk to human health. Unsurprisingly, this is the exact stance that had been taken by the meat industry in regards to downer cattle. And even after the discovery of mad cow disease and mounting proof that it is more likely carried by downed cows, meat from non-ambulatory cattle continued to be fed to U.S. consumers, including children receiving meals through the National School Lunch Program. This is clearly an industry that is motivated primarily by its own economic gains – even when those gains come at the risk of public health.

That the consumption of any farm animal too sick to stand poses an increased risk to consumers stands to reason. But the USDA has typically taken a “don’t look, don’t find” approach, allowing agribusiness to act without conscience or thought of consequence for the sake of a few extra dollars. Isn’t it time for the USDA to start protecting consumers and showing mercy to suffering animals instead of catering to the economic interests of factory farmers?

When asked to address concerns surrounding the slaughter of non-ambulatory animals other than cattle in previous deliberations, the USDA has repeatedly failed to do so. Recently, however, the agency has responded to a petition submitted by Farm Sanctuary requesting the extension of the “no downer” rule to include pigs, sheep, goats, and other animals by announcing that it will accept public comment on the issue. From now until April 8, 2011, we have the chance to tell the USDA that we reject this inhumane and irresponsible practice of the meat industry and demand that downed animals not be abused and slaughtered for human food. Please take action today by submitting your comments to the USDA (we have provided sample language you can use) and share this article, so your friends, family and co-workers can do the same!

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