USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) last Monday (Jan. 3) put new rules into effect for so-called “downer” cows that are identified at slaughterhouses.

Under notice 74-10, the new rule involves the disposition of non-ambulatory cattle.   It specifically applies to downers that are steers and heifers, bulls and cows, including dairy and beef, and heavy calves weighing more than 400 pounds.

The notice, originally published last Dec. 21, says any non-ambulatory cattle presented by the plant to the USDA veterinarian for ante-mortem inspection must be condemned and euthanized. 


If cattle temporarily lie down at the plant, but rise for ante-mortem inspection, they may be passed if the veterinarian finds them fit for consumption.

The only exception is for veal calves that are non-ambulatory because they are cold or tired.  Cold or tired calves may be set apart for treatment and if subsequently deemed fit for consumption, they may be passed. 

Cattle that are stressed are more susceptible to disease, which is one reason why “downer” cows are excluded from the human food supply.