Nutrition Action Healthletter
April 1999 — U.S. Edition

When cattle are incapacitated with pneumatic air stunners just before they’re slaughtered, powerful blasts of air are injected into their brains. That can splatter brain tissue throughout the carcass, we revealed in our July/August 1997 cover story (“Mad About BSE”).

   Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), has never been detected in the US. But if it should appear, it could spread from cows to humans via brain tissue that ends up in the meat. (In the United Kingdom, 33 people have died from a disease linked to BSE-infected beef.)

   At the urging of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (Nutrition Action’s publisher) and others, the U.S. beef industry funded a study of pneumatic stunning with air that confirmed what scientists in Texas and Canada had reported.

   “We found nerve tissue in the hearts of two of 1,980 cattle from 15 slaughter houses,” says Jens Knutson of the industryıs American Meat Institute (AMI). Calling even two cases “unacceptable,” the AMI last spring urged all U.S. beef slaughterers to stop using pneumatic stunning with air. Since then, manufacturers have been replacing pneumatic stunners with devices that don’t inject air.

   By mid-1999, pneumatic stunners with air will be used to help slaughter less than one percent of steers and heifers, says the beef industry. “We turned around on a dime,” notes the AMI’s Sara Lilygren.—David Schardt

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