Blood & Chicken Dung
Still Allowed In Cattle Feed

By Chris McGann
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
A mountain of chicken dung - among other things - is preventing the Food and Drug Administration from banning blood, chicken waste and restaurant leftovers from cattle feed, a top administration official said yesterday.
In the scramble to keep mad cow disease from spreading after a Holstein from Yakima County was diagnosed with the brain-wasting illness, the FDA recommended in January what seemed like simple and sensible restrictions on cattle feed.
Tainted feed from a Canadian mill is believed to have infected the Yakima County Holstein cow that set off the U.S. mad cow crisis in December.
But just days after the agency recommended bans on the widespread practice of adding such things as blood, chicken excrement and restaurant table scraps to feed, it was deluged with troubling feedback, according to Stephen Sundlof, the director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine.
Three months later, the agency is still struggling to reconcile the need to strengthen safeguards against bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, and the concerns that the new rules could generate serious unintended consequences.
But with major export markets still refusing to buy U.S. beef, calls to enact the new rules are getting louder. On Monday, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Washington cattlemen and the director of the state's Department of Agriculture urged the FDA officials to quit "dragging their feet."
In an interview yesterday, Sundlof provided no likely deadline for the new bans, only assurances that progress was being made.
But Sundlof did offer some explanations for the delays.
He said, for example, that the proposed ban on adding chicken litter (fecal matter, dead birds, feathers and spilled feed) generated huge concern from chicken producers.
Sundlof said adding chicken litter to cattle feed is one of the primary methods of waste disposal for the chicken growers, especially in the Southeast.
"From an environmental standpoint, what are people going to do with the poultry litter?" he asked. "One of the benefits of doing this was that it was an environmentally sound way of recycling the material."
If the point is to keep the chicken waste away from cattle, then alternative methods of disposing it such as spreading it in pastures as fertilizer are problematic because the cattle can still come in contact with it. Also, there are limits on how much nitrogen and phosphorous the pastures can handle. Those chemicals are concentrated in the chicken waste.
Sundlof added: "As disgusting as this may sound, poultry litter is really utilizable in cattle feed because it contains high nitrogen content that cattle can convert back into protein."
Cattle are fed urea, a chemical found in urine and also synthetically produced, because the ruminants can convert it to high- quality protein. Chicken litter is high in those kinds of nitrogenous compounds and that's why it's used in cattle feed, he said.
The ban on adding cattle blood to cattle feed is problematic, Sundlof said, because the agency is looking at some exceptions for certain cattle blood products, specifically fetal calf serum.
The blood from unborn calves is used in the production of cattle vaccines and products for use by humans.
"The question is, `How risky would fetal calf serum be?' We think that that it's not very risky because it's from cattle that are not even born yet so they haven't reached the age when they could be infected," Sundlof said.
"We are trying to sort out the uses that would be a greater risk if they weren't around."
As for the restaurant scraps: "Plate waste doesn't seem to have many issues related to it," he said.
The FDA plans on issuing new rules about cattle feed all at once, so that ban will likely be tabled until issues in other areas are resolved.
Scientists believe people who eat beef from cows infected with mad cow disease can contract variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob, a fatal brain-wasting disease that has killed about 150 people worldwide.
(C) 2004 Seattle Post-Intelligencer. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved



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