The dorsal columns of the spinal cord are a major source of haptic (sense of active touch) and proprioceptive input to the brainstem and sensory-motor cortex. Following injury in primates, there are impairments in two-point discrimination, direction of movement across the skin, and frequency of vibration, and qualitative control of the digits, but simple spatial discriminations recover. In the rat there are qualitative deficits in paw control in skilled reaching, but no sensory deficits have been reported. Because recent investigations of sensory control suggest that sensory functions may be related to specific actions, the present study investigated whether the dorsal columns contribute to hapsis during food grasping in the rat. Adult female Long-Evans rats were trained to reach with a single forepaw for a piece of uncooked pasta or for equivalent sized but tactually different nonfood items. One group was given lesions of the dorsal column ipsilateral to their preferred paw, while the second group served as a control. Postlesion, both groups were tested for skilled reaching success and force application as well as adhesive dot removal and forepaw placing. Performance levels on these tests were normal. Nevertheless, the rats with dorsal column lesions were unable to discriminate a food item from a tactually distinctive nonfood item as part of the reaching act, suggesting that the dorsal columns are important for on-line tactile discriminations, or "haptic actions," which contribute to the normal performance of grasping actions.