updated 2/27/2008 2:24:05 PM ET 2008-02-27T19:24:05

The Humane Society of the United States has filed a lawsuit against the government alleging that a legal loophole allows so-called "downer" cows to get into the food supply.

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The lawsuit claims the U.S. Department of Agriculture created the loophole with a rule change in July. The society says the USDA lets cows that fell down after an initial veterinarian inspection be slaughtered if they appeared otherwise healthy.

The USDA issued the largest beef recall in history this month after the Humane Society released undercover video showing workers at a California slaughterhouse shoving sick or crippled cows with forklifts to get them to stand.

The plant has since shut down and two workers face criminal charges in the case.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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