E-mail this article to
yourself or a friend.
Enter address:


U.S. moves to new ban for mad cow, officials says

(Saturday, July 10, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Sandra Blakeslee, NY Times, 07/09/04: Federal health officials said yesterday that in an effort to eradicate mad cow disease, they were moving toward a policy, based on the advice of international experts, to ban the feeding of any farm animal parts to other farm animals.

Current practice allows cattle to be fed chickens, pigs and other species that had been fed rendered cattle whose tissue could theoretically be infected. Such practices are widely said to have caused the epidemic of mad cow disease in Britain 20 years ago and its spread to other countries.

The officials also announced the closing of a loophole that could in theory have let the disease spread to people who use certain food supplements and cosmetics.

Consumer groups expressed outrage that the Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for regulating animal feed, did not close another loophole, feeding cattle large amounts of cattle blood, chicken waste and other materials that might spread the disease.

"On the most important issue facing it, F.D.A. has essentially put off issuing needed regulations to protect the public until after the November election," said Prof. Thomas O. McGarity, president of the Center for Progressive Regulation and an expert on food safety laws at the University of Texas.

Dr. Stephen F. Sundlof, director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the food and drug agency, said in a telephone interview that the proposal to stop feeding cattle products to other animals and back to cattle went much further than previously announced proposals and would automatically remove remaining loopholes in animal feed safety.

At least 30 million American cattle are slaughtered each year. Under the new plan, all their intestines, which can now be fed to other animals, would have to be disposed of. The brains, tonsils and other risky tissues from older animals would also have to find resting places. Today, the wastes go into chicken and hog feed and pet food.

In Britain, such wastes are burned with fossil fuels to make Portland cement, Dr. Sundlof said.

"We decided to focus our efforts on the one measure that will have the greatest effect," he said. "We want to have a rule in place that the next time, if we find another animal, we can say, "Look, we've done everything we can that is reasonable.'"

The rules, if adopted, would require the cattle industry, food manufacturers, renderers and many other industries to revamp their practices completely, Dr. Sundlof said.

The agency invited public comment on its proposal. Dr. Sundlof said it would take some time to gather information.

"My guess,'' he added, "is there would not be anything final before the end of this year."

The proposal stems from the finding in December of the first case of mad cow disease in the nation, in Mabton, Wash. The disease, technically bovine spongiform encephalopathy, can be transmitted to cattle and humans when infectious particles called prions find their way into food and other ingested products.

In January, the Agriculture Department announced aggressive steps to prevent the disease from spreading. Among other steps, the department placed an immediate ban on sickly cattle, called downers, from entering the human food supply as hamburger or other cheap cuts.

Later in January, the food and drug agency proposed two additional rules and invited public comment. The first rule bans the use of risky cattle tissue in dietary supplements and cosmetics. A number of supplements contain brain and adrenal glands. Some skin conditioners, emollients and hair products contain potentially dangerous cattle tissue that could enter the human body through cuts or the eye.

Yesterday, the agency said that the final rule would start on Wednesday. It also told makers of supplements and cosmetics that they had to set up record keeping to prove they were complying with the rule.

The second proposal in January removed exemptions from cattle feeding practices. Since 1997, cattle have not been allowed to eat tissue from other ruminants, but they do consume vast quantities of cattle blood and feathers and excrement from industrial poultry operations. Consumer groups argue that because chickens are fed rendered beef pellets that might have prions, cattle could be cross-contaminated.

Dr. Sundlof said that such concerns were valid but that "more radical, innovative solutions" were needed. Although no Americans have been reported infected from eating domestic beef, the industry has suffered enormous losses in trade and consumer confidence.

Changing practices is a huge undertaking, Dr. Sundlof said. The feathers and droppings of 8.5 billion chickens would have to be disposed in another way like being used as fertilizer, he said. But cows might pick up prions from grass.