The ban on non-ambulatory or ‘downer’ cattle is one of many steps in a robust system to produce safe beef, but it is not the only step taken to ensure the safety of the beef supply. The beef we eat is safe because there are multiple safety hurdles before it arrives at our grocery stores or restaurants.”

That was from the statement of the Denver-based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association after USDA announced that Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company was recalling 143.3 million pounds of beef because the Chino slaughterhouse was routinely processing “downer” cattle.

Here’s how Wayne Pacelle, chief executive officer of the Humane Society, sees it:

"There’s no ambiguity in our mind that this plant was accepting downers, abusing downers and slaughtering downers."

While some audit evidence was raising doubts, we have been living under a five year old ban on “downer” cattle getting into the human food supply. The cruel practices the Chino slaughterhouse was using to get around the ban should not be the primary concern.

Our primary concern is that “downer” cattle are in the human food supply through one of USDA’s award-winning plants. Bill Marler explains the problem this way:

“Why is this all important? Federal regulations call for keeping downer cows out of the food supply because they pose a higher risk of E. coli, salmonella contamination, or mad cow disease since they typically wallow in feces and their immune systems are often weak. Yummy!”

Network news is reporting that 37 million pounds of the recalled beef went to America’s public schools. Unlike E. coli and salmonella, mad cow disease typically won’t show up for years.

The Secretary of Agriculture says chances anyone will get mad cow disease are “remote.”

However, he will be long gone before we find out if he was right or not.