WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced a final rule to amend federal meat inspection regulations to require a complete ban on the slaughter of cattle that become non-ambulatory disabled after passing initial inspection by Food Safety and Inspection Service inspection program personnel.

The final rule amends the federal meat-inspection regulations to require all cattle that are non-ambulatory disabled (downer) cattle at any time prior to slaughter at an official establishment, including those that become non-ambulatory disabled after passing ante-mortem inspection, be condemned and properly disposed of according to F.S.I.S. regulations.

In addition, the final rule requires plant personnel to notify inspection program personnel when cattle become non-ambulatory disabled after passing the ante-mortem, or pre-slaughter, inspection.

"This rule is designed to enhance consumer confidence and humane handling standards and will provide clear guidance that non-ambulatory cattle will not be allowed to enter the human food supply," he added. "It is a step forward for both food safety and the standards for humane treatment of animals."

Under the final rule, cattle that become non-ambulatory disabled from an acute injury after ante-mortem inspection will no longer be eligible to proceed to slaughter as "U.S. Suspects." F.S.I.S. inspectors will now tag these cattle as "U.S. Condemned" and prohibit these cattle from proceeding to slaughter. Discontinuing the case-by-case disposition of cattle that become non-ambulatory disabled after ante mortem inspection will eliminate the time F.S.I.S. Public Health Veterinarians spend conducting additional inspections on these animals, thereby increasing the time inspection program personnel can allocate to other inspection activities. With this final rule, these cattle now must be humanely euthanized.

F.S.I.S. published the final rule, "Prohibition of the Use of Specified Risk Materials for Human Food and Requirements for the Disposition of Non-Ambulatory Disabled Cattle; Prohibition of the Use of Certain Stunning Devices Used To Immobilize Cattle During Slaughter" (the S.R.M. final rule) on July 13, 2007. The S.R.M. final rule allowed a case-by-case re-inspection of cattle that became non-ambulatory disabled after ante mortem inspection to address the rare situations in which an animal that is deemed by F.S.I.S. as fit for human food at ante-mortem inspection subsequently suffers an acute injury.

"We are pleased that U.S.D.A. has acted favorably on a petition submitted by the American Meat Institute and other industry organizations in April 2008," said J. Patrick Boyle, A.M.I. president. "This rule codifies voluntary industry practice since we submitted the petition nearly a year ago."

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