WASHINGTON (FNS) -- The beef industry is undertaking a joint study to investigate whether the practice of stunning a cow before slaughter might spread bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, should the fatal brain illness ever surface in the United States.
The study, by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Englewood, Colo., and the American Meat Institute, Arlington, Va., follows the recent connection made by a public health advocacy group between the stunning of cattle and how brain tissue is released into a cow's body.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has already taken steps to protect against mad cow disease entering the food supply, should it ever be introduced into the United States. The disease has been a problem in Great Britain, where mad cow disease-tainted cattle had been linked to 18 human cases of the illness, which is incurable.
The CSPI calls the practice of stunning -- specifically with a pneumatic gun -- a potential gap in the safeguards against mad cow disease.
The pneumatic stunning technique involves a burst of air and a hard capsule being forced into a cow's ear to render it senseless as it awaits being slaughtered. This method is preferred by large-capacity slaughterhouses at which cattle are in line for lengthy periods before being killed. Cows are required by law to be stunned before slaughter.
Industry representatives said the slaughterhouses would alter their stunning methods if the study currently under way shows the pneumatic gun system could lead to the spread of mad cow disease.