- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The
United States is vulnerable to the deadly mad cow disease due to significant
flaws in its ban on feeding cattle the remains of other animals, congressional
investigators said on Tuesday.
- However, government and industry officials dismissed
the General Accounting Office (GAO) report, saying more comprehensive studies
have found the United States is at little risk to the disease.
- Since 1997, the Food and Drug Administration's feed ban
has been considered the first line of defense from the spread of mad cow
disease in the United States, which has never reported a case.
- In its investigation, the GAO said the FDA was using
"inaccurate, incomplete, and unreliable data" to track and oversee
feed ban compliance within the U.S meat industry.
- "FDA's failure to enforce the feed ban may already
have placed U.S. herds and, in turn, the human food supply at risk,"
the report stated.
- Mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy
(BSE), was believed to have spread from Britain to other European countries
when the bones, spinal cord and other remains of diseased cattle were ground
up for use in livestock feed.
- In contrast to the GAO report, Harvard University in
its three-year study said the U.S. was "extremely unlikely" to
get the deadly disease.
- The GAO said it found several instances where U.S. meat
plants were not complying with the FDA feed ban despite repeated warnings
from the agency.
- Murray Lumpkin, FDA senior associate commissioner, said
about 100 U.S. feed mills out of 10,000 currently do not meet federal requirements.
- "Clearly we are concerned that some plants are not
in compliance," Lumpkin told Reuters. "So we are continuing to
focus our enforcement efforts."
- GAO said mad cow disease could have found its way into
the U.S. if these meat plants had used diseased beef imports in their animal
- The GAO report said the United States purchased about
125 million pounds of beef and about 1,000 cattle from countries that later
reported a case of mad cow disease. Experts say there is no evidence that
the meat products had the disease, which can survive without detection
for up to eight years.
- GAO recommended the FDA, working closely with states,
develop a detailed enforcement strategy to quickly address companies that
fail to comply with the feed ban.
- CONSUMER LABELS
- The report also urged the FDA and U.S. Agriculture Department
to consider labeling products that contain the cattle's brains and spinal
cord, which are susceptible to mad cow disease.
- GAO said FDA was reviewing whether to ban all brains
and spinal cord tissue from foods it regulates, as well as cosmetics and
- USDA and U.S. meat groups said meat labels were not necessary
because mad cow disease did not exist in U.S. livestock.
- "Labeling and warning statements should be reserved
for known hazards," USDA said in a statement.
- Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said the GAO report
had a number of scientific and technical errors that USDA pointed out,
but were never corrected.
- U.S. meat groups said the report did not take into consideration
recent steps federal agencies have implemented to strengthen mad cow defenses.
- "This report simply misinterprets, or simply ignores
the effectiveness of measures already taken," said Patrick Boyle,
president of the American Meat Institute.
- More than 100 people in Britain, France and Ireland have
died from or been diagnosed with the human version, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob
disease (vCJD), after eating infected meat.
- Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat who requested the
GAO study, said he would soon introduce legislation that would broaden
the government's feed ban for cattle.
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